Part II: Thap Lan Frontline in Illegal Rosewood Logging War
Rangers and Police Arrest Two Groups of Rosewood Poachers Hired from Cambodia to Illegally Log Thap Lan National Park
Twenty-nine Cambodian men were arrested while logging rosewood in the mountains of Thailand’s Prachinburi province on Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
The 29 were part of a group of 60 men who set off from Cambodia some 10 days earlier, lured across the border by an unidentified timber trader’s offer of 200 baht (about $6) per felled acacia tree, the statement said.
But upon reaching Prachinburi, approximately 50 km from the Poipet border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province, the men were split into two groups and instructed to log the mountainous Thap Lan National Park for protected rosewood trees—whose red-hued wood can fetch thousands of dollars per cubic meter.
On Wednesday, a group of Thai police and soldiers approached the group of 29 and prepared to arrest its members, according to the statement, only for someone to fire a gun into the air, prompting 18 of the men to flee.
All were eventually captured, however, and brought to a local police station, where Cambodia’s envoy to neighboring Sa Kaeo province met and interviewed them on Thursday, the statement said.
Another twenty (20) Cambodian workers were arrested a week later after they were found walking through the Thap Lan National Park World Heritage Site in Prachin Buri’s Na Dee district early yesterday.
The hungry and exhausted workers, found in the mountainous forest at about 1.30am, claimed that they were hired by a Thai investor to cut eucalyptus trees in the forest in exchange for Bt150 per tonne.
But they didn't receive any daily payments for four days in a row and their employer threatened to have police arrest them for illegal entry, they claimed. They said they became unhappy and decided to leave the forest but ran into villagers and subsequently the police, said Thai-speaking Cambodian man Sokban Wee, 35.
The workers were charged for illegal entry into Thailand. Police don't believe they were hired to cut eucalyptus trees because a few days earlier police had arrested 47 Cambodians in Thab Lan who also used the same excuse but later confessed to having been hired to cut and smuggle Siamese rosewood trees.
More than two dozen Cambodians were arrested by Thai police following an armed clash on Wednesday evening inside a national park where the Cambodians were allegedly extracting illegal rosewood, according to an official at the Cambodian consulate in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.
Bun Sokvibol said that 28 Cambodians and one Thai were arrested after being stopped by police while transporting rosewood from the Thap Lan National Park, a protected area inside Kerng Dinsar commune, Prachinburi province.
According to the police, the Cambodians fired at them as they moved in, and they fired back. There were no injuries, the police said.
“We cannot intervene for the release of the 28 Cambodians since theirs is an obvious crime. Thai authorities seized chainsaws and weapons. However, as the general consulate, we can seek [legal representation] for defending them,” said Sokvibol.
Na Vanna, one of those arrested, was quoted in a local Thai news report, citing police, that a group of 60 illegal migrants had been hired to log eucalyptus trees and were only told they would be logging rosewood by their Thai boss after arriving. “We did not want to log [rosewood], but they forced us by threatening to report us to Thai police if we did not log rosewood,” Vanna reportedly said.
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