The number of Cambodians killed while logging across the border in Thailand decreased by more than 66 percent last year, while the number of loggers injured increased, an Interior Ministry official said Tuesday.
Eleven people were killed and 34 injured in 16 separate shooting incidents in 2014, compared to the 34 deaths and 25 injured in 35 recorded shooting incidents in 2013, according to Hor Sakun, chief of the ministry’s central department of border police.
Lieutenant General Sakun said most of the shootings occurred across the border from Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces, where highly coveted Siamese rosewood grows.
“[Across the border] from three other provinces, Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, and Pailin, only rare shootings occurred,” he said.
Thai soldiers’ tendency to shoot Cambodian loggers who venture illegally into Thai territory has been a sore point in cross-border relations for several years now.
In high-level diplomatic meetings, Cambodian government officials have repeatedly urged their Thai counterparts to address the issue and ensure that Thai soldiers arrest, rather than fire at, loggers.
In March, Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia was summoned to the Foreign Affairs Ministry to answer for the shooting death of a man who had crossed the border in search of wood. The ministry also sent a strongly worded letter to the Thai Embassy in December over an “atrocious” incident in which a woman was shot and killed while foraging for mushrooms across the border.
Despite the large decrease in deaths recorded by officials, rights group Adhoc, which also monitors shootings along the border, said the police figures for shooting deaths appeared to be too low. Ny Chakriya, the Adhoc’s head of monitoring, said the group counted 26 deaths and 18 injuries in 2014.
Mr. Chakriya said he believed that local police did not always report deaths along the border to the Interior Ministry.
He noted, however, that Adhoc’s injury figures might be lower because injured loggers faced pressure not to report incidents to rights groups.
“Our task and the police’s task are different,” he said.
Srey Naren, Adhoc’s monitor in the border province of Oddar Meanchey, said monitoring was growing more difficult because timber dealers seeking rosewood have largely stopped hiring locals—who are appraised of the dangers of logging across the border—and are instead bringing in young men from central provinces to do the dangerous work.
“Luxury wood businessmen changed their ways to hire people from outside Oddar Meanchey province to cut rosewood in Thai forests, so if Thais fire on them and they die inside the…forest, none of their relatives are looking for them and we can’t get a report,” he explained.
Mr. Naren said he thought there might be more dead or missing loggers whose relatives in the interior have still not reported them as missing.
“Rosewood cutters are still sneaking into Thai forests, and rosewood smuggling is still rife in Oddar Meanchey province,” he said.