SI SA KET – Thai forestry officials killed three Cambodians who were illegally logging on Tuesday, in what they said was a shootout in Thailand’s Sisaket province, a border official said Wednesday.
The latest deaths bring the number of Cambodians who have been shot while logging across the border this year to 33, according to rights group Adhoc.
Touch Ra, director of the Chaom-Sangam border crossing in Oddar Meanchey province, said Cambodian border police had received reports of the incident Wednesday morning and were attempting to establish the identities of the slain Cambodians.
Thai authorities said they had come across the loggers at about 3 a.m. during a routine patrol, Mr. Ra said.
“Thai forestry officials are always patrolling their forest, it is not like Cambodian forestry officers who stay on the roads and stay in the city,” Mr. Ra said.
Thai officials have in the past insisted that their soldiers only shoot Cambodian loggers when fired upon first.
Police are now searching for family members of the dead loggers, who are believed to have lived in Oddar Meanchey’s Trapaing Prasat district, which borders Sisaket, according to district police chief Keo Tann.
Eighteen felled logs of Siamese Rosewood were found near the bodies, along with a collection of handsaws and axes, The Bangkok Post newspaper reported Wednesday. The report does not say whether any guns had been found on the bodies, but said that they will be sent back to Cambodia after autopsies have been carried out.
The Bangkok Post article says that Thai authorities had estimated that the confiscated wood could be sold for 10 million baht, or about $315,000, if smuggled out of Thailand.
In March, Siamese Rosewood was elevated to protected-species status by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year issued a directive ordering provincial authorities to prevent Cambodians from crossing into Thailand illegally to log rosewood.
In 2012, 45 Cambodians were shot dead by Thai border protection forces while logging over the border, according to government figures. The death toll in 2011 was 15 people, according to figures from Adhoc.