Although a spokesman in Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Thursday that Cambodian police arrested and deported members of the anti-communist Free Vietnam group, government officials here continued to deny involvement in an arrest and possible extradition detailed last week by eyewitnesses.
The Vietnamese spokesman told The Associated Press that Cambodia expelled a number of Free Vietnam activists “to the places they came from.”
His statement follows a Far Eastern Economic Review report on Thursday that Nguyen Manh Cam, Vietnam’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, said Cambodian officials arrested the activists as they tried to smuggle arms into Vietnam.
Last week, neighbors and colleagues of reputed Free Vietnam operative Vu Duc Binh said he was snatched from his Pailin home by Phnom Penh police around Aug 1. Witnesses said he has not been seen since, and his mother has fled to Vietnam, where she suspects he was taken.
Despite eyewitness accounts and reports from Vietnam, Cambodia’s National Police Director General Hok Lundy remained unmoved. “I’ve been asked many times about this,” he said Thursday over the phone from Bangkok. “Again, I do not know anything about it.”
In past years, Hok Lundy admitted to arresting and deporting other Free Vietnam members—including US nationals.
But since then, officials at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights decried the arrests and deportations. They said if Cambodian officials played a role, they would violate the country’s obligation to protect dissidents from persecution detailed in the UN International Convention of Human Rights.
The executive director of the UN’s rights office in Phnom Penh, Rosemary McCreery, said last week the UN’s special rights envoy to Cambodia included recent Free Vietnam deportations in an April report because of the dangers deportees face when returned to their home countries.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Thursday would neither confirm nor deny Vu Duc Binh’s arrest. But he said he is aware of previous Free Vietnam arrests.
While witnesses in Pailin said both police and military forces collared Vu Duc Binh, Defense Ministry spokesman Neang Phat denied the army was involved.
And Chu Loc, press attaché for the Vietnamese embassy here, reiterated Thursday that “no authorities in Cambodia notified us about this arrest.”
As Hok Lundy deflected questions about the Vu Duc Binh case, three unrelated sources who asked not to be named fingered a prominent city police official, Mok Chito, who was suspended from his post as chief of Phnom Penh police for foreigners in December.
A rights worker who did not wish to reveal his name said reports from Pailin indicate Mok Chito led the team that apprehended Vu Duc Binh. The source said his group is seeking an interview with Mok Chito about the case. Mok Chito could not be reached for comment Thursday but has previously flatly denied involvement in the arrest.