A group of opposition lawmakers in Cambodia have 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 attacks that human rights groups say have killed 124 people since 2008.
In a letter dated Feb. 9 and recently obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service, 17 members of parliament from the 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—including CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha, and CNRP spokesperson and chief of executive committee Yim Sovann—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.
“We consider extrajudicial killings and the failure of the State to take legal action on those responsible for those killings as tantamount to the State’s encouragement of such [acts],” said the letter, addressed to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
“Such inaction is wrong and contrary to a primary principle of democracy, the right to due process of law. We strongly urge you to put an end to the extrajudicial killing of Cambodians along the Cambodian/Thai border in [the] future.”
The MPs noted that Bangkok had so far denied that the two young men allegedly burned alive by Thai soldiers were Cambodian nationals, though their bodies had been claimed by their parents, and called for an independent investigation to be conducted and its results made public before the case is declared closed.
They strongly condemned the shooting “at close range” of Phorn Chem, noting that her daughters were witness to the killing before escaping, and called the incident “a crime that cannot end with just an apology.”
“We express the same horror and outrage at and condemn in no less vehement terms the killing of other Cambodians by the Thai state agents over recent years in the border regions,” the letter said, counting 45 in 2012 and 69 in 2013.
“These killings are not a result of confusion and are not accidental but are continued acts of utter barbarity against Cambodian nationals. These cruel acts are abhorrent, and all the more so when committed by agents of a Buddhist state.”
Son Chhay, who was among the opposition lawmakers to sign the letter, told RFA it had been delivered to Prayuth Chan-ocha through the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, and threatened further action if the Thai government did not move to rein in the killings.
“We can file complaints to ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the U.N.,” he said.
“These killings are considered racist and are crimes.”
RFA was unable to reach the Thai Embassy for comment in response to the letter.
Three loggers killed
The missive followed an accusation earlier this week by authorities in the Choam Ksan district of northwestern Cambodia’s Preah Vihear province that Thai soldiers had shot and killed three Cambodians and seriously injured a fourth who crossed the border to illegally log rosewood in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province on Feb. 5.
Choam Ksan District Governor Kem Seng told RFA Wednesday that he had sent a report to the governor of Preah Vihear province asking him to file an official complaint with the Thai government.
“I’ve already reported to the governor to take immediate measures,” he said, adding that local authorities had yet to receive the bodies of the three killed.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Koung told RFA that his ministry will send a diplomatic note to protest last week’s recent incident.
He accused Thailand of “abusing its pact” with the Cambodian government to refrain from killing civilians.
“We held a summit [last year] between the two sides, during which Cambodia asked the Thais to stop killing Cambodian people,” he said.
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.
Kuy Koung said at the time that Cambodia had filed a diplomatic complaint through the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.
According to Kuy Koung, five Cambodians have been killed and five injured in incidents at the border since the beginning of 2014.
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.
Reported by Sobratsavyouth Hang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.