Three Oddar Meanchey province villagers were shot to death Monday while logging on the Thai-Cambodian border, officials said yesterday, bringing the total number of border killings so far this year to 14 and drawing concern from human rights groups over the continuing bloodshed around the trade in rosewood.
Brigadier General Dy Phen, director of the Thai-Cambodia Border Affairs Bureau, said his department had learned of the shootings from its Thai counterparts, which said the men were among a group of 15 shot at by Thai soldiers while logging in Thai territory.
“On the 21st, the Thai military shot three Cambodians to death, and their bodies are now being kept at Surin Provincial Hospital [in Thailand],” said Brig Gen Phen. “I have already contacted their families to have them pick up the body.
“We are not sure why they went there.”
Banseay Reak commune chief Hem Setha said details of the shooting were still sketchy but he believed the men were logging on the Dangrek Mountain range for personal use only.
“They were shot to death while going to the mountain for logs to build their house,” said Mr Setha, adding that he is now arranging with the families to pick up the bodies. According to Mr Setha, the men were shot in the no man’s land along the border, just east of Ta Krabei temple.
“They were shot to death in the white zone. While moving logs, the Thai military shot at them,” said Mr Setha.
All three men—Sam Sath, 41; Try Sambo, 37; and his brother Try Klou, 35—were from O’Bak Dao village.
Though Mr Setha insisted those shot were logging for personal purposes, he admitted that villagers have been traveling to the border in record numbers in search of rosewood to sell.
“There are some that go into Thailand after getting contacted by merchants. Rosewood’s price is increasing these days,” he said. “The authorities have set up meetings and try to educate the villagers to avoid going to the mountain, but many keep on, as they are poor.”
Samroang city police chief Nuon Eth said yesterday that his officers had been to the scene of the shooting, but found little evidence to explain what had happened.
“Thai soldiers shot them and carried their bodies away,” he said. “At the incident place, there were no bodies, but just pools of blood and blood stains.
“We have never had this issue in the past, this is the first time [in Samraong city].”
Human rights workers have been alarmed in recent weeks as the number of those shot while logging continues to mount. Adhoc’s Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator, Srey Naren, said he fears there is no end in sight, as the price of luxury wood continues to skyrocket and villagers continue to view logging as a risk worth taking.
“These people are not professional, and they continue to risk their life to enter Thailand for rosewood,” he said.