Cambodia gov't says Thai soldiers shot dead 69 Cambodians last year

At least 69 Cambodians were shot dead by Thai border forces in 2013 after illegally crossing the border to engage in illicit logging or for other purposes, according to a government report seen Thursday.

The annual Interior Ministry report shows there were 55 such cases last year compared with 39 in 2012 when 30 Cambodians were killed in similar circumstances. It says 15 Cambodians were killed in 2011 and nine in 2010.

Illicit loggers from Cambodia often risk their lives by slipping across the border to log lucrative Thai rosewood trees, and the Thai military has come under criticism for allegedly using disproportionate force against them.

ADHOC, a Cambodian human rights advocacy group, has said it suspects illicit loggers may have been shot on sight, which would amount to extrajudicial killings, and has called for investigations into the growing number of cases.

The Thai military, for its part, has in such cases said its border guards were fired upon first and returned fire.

Despite logging bans and the establishment of protected areas, there is a rampant trade in smuggled Thai rosewood, with huge demand for the illicit product in China where it is used to make furniture that fetches extremely high prices.

The rosewood trade pits Thai rangers against well-financed and protected logging gangs, as well as poor Cambodians seeking to improve their lives.

In March last year, the prized wood was granted protection under international law, with parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voting to regulate trade in the species to protect Thailand's remaining rosewood forests, which are clustered around its northern and eastern borders.