Thailand on Thursday confirmed that it has asked Cambodia to repatriate a Thai student activist wanted for allegedly offending the monarchy, but said it was told the fugitive was not in the country.
The military junta that has ruled Thailand since overthrowing the elected government there in May accuses Ekkapob Luara, also known as Tang Achiva, of violating the country’s strict lese majeste law, which makes it a crime to question the eminence of the Thai royal family. The student activist was one of 28 people for whom the Bangkok Military Court approved arrest warrants in June, for ignoring an order to report to Thai authorities.
On September 23, Kerm Sarin, who oversees refugee issues for the Interior Ministry’s general department of immigration, confirmed a Thai news report that Mr. Luara was in Cambodia and said his application for asylum was being processed.
But the following week, Mr. Sarin recanted his comments, claiming Mr. Luara’s application was not being processed and that the government had no knowledge of his presence in Cambodia.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the Thai Army, Werachon Sokundhadhpatipak, said Cambodia had formally given Thailand the same revised account.
“Cambodia says the accused person is not in Cambodia,” he said. “Right now we are in coordination…. This is a sensitive issue.”
Mr. Werachon declined to comment further.
Spokesmen for Cambodia’s Interior and Foreign Affairs ministries could not be reached Thursday.
Last week, an acquaintance of Mr. Ekkapob, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, said he had recently been in contact with the activist, who told him he was hiding in Cambodia under the protection of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The U.N. agency would neither confirm nor deny the claim, citing its policy to not comment on individual cases.
Cambodia has been widely criticized for repatriating asylum seekers to the countries from which they fled, including a group of Uighurs sent back to China in 2009 and hundreds of Montagnards returned to Vietnam several years earlier. Most recently, the government struck a highly controversial deal with Australia to resettle asylum seekers currently being held on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru.
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