Illegal logging stokes tension along border

Govt rejects Cambodia's death toll of 45 loggers

Differences between Thailand and Cambodia over illegal logging of phayung (Siamese rosewood) emerged in border talks yesterday.

Cambodia claimed Thai forces had resorted to violence to solve the problem, while Thailand asked Cambodia to stop allowing its people to cross the border to illegally fell the precious wood.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat met his Cambodian counterpart Gen Tea Banh yesterday.

Cambodia called on Thai authorities in the talks to use the court system rather than violence against its citizens caught illegally logging protected woods.

ACM Sukumpol said he told Gen Tea Banh that Thailand has stepped up border surveillance to protect the precious rosewood and will continue to punish violators.

Cambodian authorities should be preventing their citizens from illegally entering Thailand in search of the wood, he said.

Thailand would deal with any person caught felling rosewood trees decisively, ACM Sukumpol said.

However, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said a sharp rise in shooting deaths of loggers at the hands of Thai forces was unacceptable.

''The Cambodian government does not support criminals, but we do support a civilised judgement against human beings in accordance with the law,'' Phay Siphan said.

He said a solution required both sides to work together, including reducing the demand for rare timber.

The Phnom Penh Post has released government figures claiming that 45 Cambodian loggers were shot and killed inside Thailand last year, three times the number killed in 2011 and five times the number shot dead in 2010.

Another two Cambodians have been killed so far this year.

The figures also claim authorities in Thailand last year arrested 264 Cambodians for illegal logging offences.

Lt Gen Jirasak Chomprasop, the Second Army commarder who supervises border security, denied Thai forces had shot and killed 45 Cambodian loggers last year as claimed.

He said Thai soldiers usually fire their weapons into the air to chase away loggers. Some of the loggers were shot dead after opening fire on the soldiers, he said.

''The Cambodian loggers are accompanied by armed men for protection and many times they opened fire on Thai soldiers,'' Lt Gen Jirasak said.

On Friday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a ban on the cutting and selling of rosewood.

Environmental experts say China's growing demand for rosewood has nearly wiped out the tree in Cambodia, despite the rosewood's protected status.

Cambodians now enter Thailand to cut rosewood illegally, earning thousands of baht per trip.

In the past, Cambodian officials have said they send protest notices after every violent incident, though rights workers have noted that no soldier has ever been punished after killing an illegal logger.

Last week, Hun Sen said he had signed a circular to crack down on rosewood logging and trafficking, an announcement met with derision from experts, who said the effort, though laudable, was too late.

Chea Slonh, a district police chief in Banteay Meanchey's Svay Chek, said loggers spend days at a time venturing deeper into Thai territory to log wood.

''They cross the border for two or three days and get about 10 kilometres into Thailand. If they're able to return with rosewood, each can earn from $200 to $1,000 [5,966-29,800 baht].''

A Cambodian border office source admitted that poverty probably played a role in encouraging villagers to take the risk of illegal logging.

''Because of their personal living conditions, our villagers are easily convinced by ringleaders into seeking rosewood,'' he said.BANGKOK POST/dpa/PHNOM PENH POST