Wednesday’s shooting by Thai troops adds to spate of logging-related violence
Thai soldiers shot at a group of Cambodians who were illegally logging rosewood in Thailand across the border from Oddar Meanchey province on Wednesday, injuring one before sparking a brief firefight with Cambodian troops, according to a local official and a human rights worker.
The incident adds to a spate of similar reports of Thai troops shooting at—and sometimes killing—Cambodians who sneak across the country’s northern border with Thailand in search of lucrative rosewood lumber, a single ton of which can fetch $7,000.
The group of 16 was shot at when Thai soldiers patrolling the border came upon them in the mid-afternoon, said Srey Naren, a provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc who met with the men after their return. According to Mr Naren, four of the men said they grabbed a fifth who had been shot in the left leg and fled with him back into Cambodia, and that 11 remained missing in the border forest. He said the shot man, Dy Phy, 19, was recovering at a hospital in Anlong Veng district.
“The ones who returned home said there were 16 of them who went into the forest looking for rosewood,” Mr Naren said.
Touch Ra, border liaison chief at the Chaom Sra Ngam checkpoint, confirmed the shooting and said the ensuing chase lead to a brief exchange of fire between Thai and Cambodian troops.
“The Thai soldiers chasing the rosewood loggers across the Cambodian border made our border soldiers fire at them briefly, but the Thai soldiers returned to their base,” he said, with no other injuries on either side.
Mr Ra said he had also seen two reports from the Thai border police dated Tuesday and Wednesday notifying their Cambodian counterparts that three Cambodian nationals suspected of illegal logging in Thailand had been arrested and that their names would follow.
The shooting is only the latest in a string of similar incidents.
According to various military and police officials along the border, Thai troops have shot dead at least six Cambodian loggers and injured another eight-most within the past month-with even more gone missing.
Those officials say poor Cambodian farmers cross the Thai border to hunt for rosewood despite their warning, though human rights groups claim that police and military help facilitate the highly lucrative wood smuggling business.
Neither the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry nor the Thai ambassador to Cambodia, Sompong Sanguanbun, could be reached for comment yesterday.
But Colonel Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, spokesman for the Thai Army, said he had no knowledge of the alleged shootings of Cambodians and called the latest claims “groundless.”
“I don’t believe that this is true,” he said. “It is not fair to just jump to the conclusion that they are being shot by Thai soldiers.”
Col Veerachon said any encounter Thai soldiers had with Cambodian civilians on Thai territory was governed by clear rules of engagement that call for detention and repatriation.
After one shooting incident across from Oddar Meanchey province in July, however, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement that acknowledged the reports and said Thai soldiers had only ever shot at the Cambodian loggers in self-defense when fired on first.