Thai authorities deported dozens of Cambodians jailed for illegal logging over the weekend, an official in Cambodia said Monday, as part of efforts by the government to reduce the number of deadly confrontations between the loggers and soldiers in Thailand.
The 54 Cambodian loggers had been arrested and imprisoned by authorities in Thailand’s Sisaket and Ubon Ratchathani provinces before their release and deportation on April 25, said Touch Ra, deputy director of the Khmer-Thai Relations Working Team in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng district.
The deportation brought to more than 80 the number of Cambodian nationals sent home from Thailand in April alone after being prosecuted for illegal logging across the border, he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Oddar Meanchey provincial governor Sar Thavy welcomed the “humanitarian move,” saying efforts by Thai soldiers to apprehend and deport illegal loggers back to Cambodia had significantly reduced the number of deadly incidents in forests across the border in recent months.
“I met with Thai soldiers and asked them to arrest illegal loggers [from Cambodia] and prosecute them,” rather than confront them in the forest, he said.
The 54 deportees include villagers from Takeo, Kampong Speu, Battambang, Preah Vihear and Kampong Cham provinces, Sar Thavy said, adding that they had been required to attend a class to educate them about why illegal logging was wrong before they were allowed to return home.
“We have since sent them back to their hometowns,” he said.
Sar Thavy said that in addition to those deported this month, Thai solders also sent five illegal loggers back to Cambodia in February.
In February, a group of opposition lawmakers in Cambodia urged Thailand to end “extrajudicial killings” of Cambodians by Thai state agents along the countries’ shared border, likening Bangkok’s failure to punish those responsible to “encouragement” of the attacks.
The 17 members of parliament from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) expressed concerns over the killing of two Cambodians they said had been burned alive by Thai soldiers on Jan. 7 while caught trying to smuggle a motorbike across the border.
The MPs also urged the Thai government to take further action despite apologizing to and compensating the family of 55-year-old Phorn Chem, who was shot and killed by Thai soldiers while foraging for food across the border on Dec. 9 last year.
They counted 45 killings of Cambodians by Thai state agents in 2012 and 69 in 2013.
The letter followed an accusation by Cambodian authorities in Preah Vihear province earlier in February that Thai soldiers had shot and killed three Cambodian and seriously injured a fourth who crossed the border to illegally log rosewood in Ubon Ratchathani province on Feb. 5.
During a visit to Phnom Penh in December last year, Thailand’s Minister of Defense Prawit Wongsuwan apologized to his Cambodian counterpart Tea Banh for the shooting death of Phorn Chem and pledged to compensate her family.
The two sides also agreed to respect border laws and adhere to humanitarian principles.
Local rights group Adhoc said last year that 124 Cambodians were killed in Thailand between 2008 and 2014.
According to The Bangkok Post, Thailand says Cambodians who illegally cross the border to log rosewood frequently travel with armed guards who fire at Thai soldiers patrolling the area to avoid arrest, and that Thai soldiers are compelled to return fire in self-defense—in compliance with international law.
Last year in June, some 200,000 illegal Cambodian workers—who prop up Thailand’s industries, but are mostly living in the country without proper documentation—fled or were forcibly repatriated by the Thai junta, which threatened undocumented workers with arrest and deportation after taking power in a May 22 coup.
Reported by Sobratsavyouth Hang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.