At least two Oddar Meanchey province villagers were shot dead and another went missing on Jan 10 after Thai forces opened fire to repel Cambodians seeking to log trees illegally in Thailand, officials said yesterday.
Chean Cheath, 34, and Earn Ol, 43, were among 26 people who crossed the border in Trapaing Prasat district in the Dangrek mountains and were fatally shot by Thai forces, according to RCAF Brigadier General Pol Sinuon, head of the border affairs bureau, who cited an unnamed member of the Thai armed forces as the source of his information.
District police chief Keo San said yesterday that he had been informed that the bodies of two men were taken to a Thai hospital and were expected to be returned to Cambodia soon.
He said 21 members of the group were briefly detained on their return to Cambodia and were being questioned about the events by Cambodian forces under the command of RCAF Lieutenant Colonel Toch Ra, chief of border communications in the district.
Thai Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said he was too busy to speak to a reporter yesterday. However Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the group had illegally crossed into Thailand.
“The government will build more checkpoints to prevent them and warn them from crossing the border illegally to prevent shooting,” Mr Kanharith said.
According to Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, the government should not only punish the villagers sent to log in Thailand illegally but also the businessmen and women who pay them to do so.
“If the government doesn’t stop the businessmen, the villagers will still die because they are poor and without jobs,” he said of their motivation to risk life and limb as illegal loggers in Thailand.
Officials in Oddar Meanchey province said in September that Thai forces shot one Cambodian dead and wounded another while attempting to apprehend a group of 12 suspected of illegally entering Thailand to cut down trees.
In October, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry called on Thai authorities to explain an Oct 19 shooting in which a Thai border patrol unit reportedly fatally shot a Cambodian from Oddar Meanchey who was among a group also seeking to cut down timber.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)