The extradition treaty signed last week in Bangkok is unlikely to bring renegade generals Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal back to Cambodia to serve jail terms, observers said Tuesday.
The treaty contains a clause enabling the signatories to not send back criminals if the country believes the convictions to be political, government officials and Thai diplomats confirmed.
Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal, both convicted in absentia in mid-March to serve 20 years in prison for their roles in an alleged conspiracy, are leading resistance forces along the Thai-Cambodian border. They are known to periodically cross into Thailand.
Thai diplomats said it would be up to a court to determine whether Bangkok deemed any case of possible extradition political.
“It is up to the court to decide whether a given case is political or not,” one Thai official said.
Political observers said Nhiek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal, both Funcinpec commanders close to deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, are virtually assured of being classified as political refugees, if Thailand is ever formally asked by Phnom Penh to extradite them.
“For sure, I think their cases would be considered political,” one observer said. “They left the country because of political reasons. If their case was to go to, I suppose, a commission in Thailand within the Justice Ministry, they would make their case that they are political refugees.”
Prak Sokhonn, international affairs adviser to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Tuesday the case of Nhiek Bun Chhay was not discussed when Hun Sen met Thai Premier Chuan Leekpai last week in Bangkok.
“Cambodia has the responsibility to arrest Thai criminals hiding on Cambodian soil,” Prak Sokhonn said. “Likewise, Thailand has responsibility to arrest any Cambodian on Thai soil convicted in a Cambodian court.”
The extradition treaty will not go into affect until it is ratified by the legislative bodies of both countries, another government adviser said. Thai diplomats said that would not be before 45 days.