Indirectly blaming the UN’s Bangkok refugee agency for sheltering an “international terrorist,” Prime Minister Hun Sen Wednesday demanded opposition party member Sok Yoeun be returned to Cambodia.
Sok Yoeun, who fled to Thailand several months ago after being named as a suspect in last year’s Siem Reap rocket attack, remains there under the protection of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.
But it’s unclear exactly how much protection Sok Yoeun has in Thailand. Thai diplomatic sources maintain he has only been given “concerned person status,” rather than full political asylum, allowing him to stay in Thailand while the UNHCR office there reviews his case.
However, Sam Rainsy Party leaders Wednesday produced a document dated Nov 16 allegedly from the UNHCR in Bangkok referring to Sok Yoeun as a “refugee.” This more concrete classification could further hinder the Cambodian government’s efforts to have Sok Yoeun extradited for prosecution.
Hun Sen has asked for the Thai government’s cooperation on this case and said he would also ask top UN officials to intervene in the UNHCR’s efforts.
“There is no reason for Thailand or the UNHCR to protect this man or recognize him as a political refugee,” Hun Sen said.
But Thai diplomats say they have not received any formal requests from the Cambodian government for help on the matter, and point out that even though there is an extradition treaty signed between the two countries, it has not been ratified by the Thai parliament.
These events mark the most recent public continuation of a story that began with the arrests of Sam Rainsy Party activists this fall during a countrywide sweep for rocket attack suspects.
Two other party members remain in custody after being arrested earlier this year in connection with the September 1998 rocket attack, which left one civilian dead in Siem Reap.
Authorities have failed to publicly produce evidence against the suspects.
Hun Sen supporters say the rocket was fired at the prime minister as he rode in a convoy of newly elected parliamentarians. But critics of Hun Sen say the rocket wasn’t shot near his vehicle and that the attack was orchestrated by members of his own camp to justify a crackdown of opposition party members. Sam Rainsy Party officials and human rights workers both continue to question the arrests, saying they are part of a larger campaign to destabilize the CPP’s political opponents.
Sam Rainsy said Wednesday there was no evidence that Sok Yoeun, whom he described as a farmer from Battambang province, had any weapons expertise or would have been capable of orchestrating the rocket attack.
He did say that Sok Yoeun was one of the party’s leading activists in Battambang before disappearing over the Thai border. There he briefly re-emerged in late October with a plea to Amnesty International alleging that a man described by Sam Rainsy Party officials as a Cambodian government agent made him record confessions to the rocket attack.
“[The CPP operatives] target the activists who are most efficient—those who do the most for the party,” Sam Rainsy said.
On Sunday Sok Yoeun again became a public figure when his name was used as a political weapon by Thai opposition leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to attack Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan.
Chavalit, the former prime minister, claimed Surin was mentioned during a taped telephone conversation between Sok Yoeun and Sam Rainsy, who were allegedly discussing asylum for Sok Yoeun in Thailand, according to reports in The Bangkok Post.
The opposition party, whom Chavalit claimed is connected with the anti-American movement allegedly led by the terrorist Osama bin Laden, sought Surin’s help is seeking asylum for Sok Yoeun.
Both Thai and Cambodian officials are questioning the source of this taped conversation and how it came to the Thai parliament.
Monday’s events have led to accusations of phone taping in Bangkok and denials in Phnom Penh that the conversation was taped locally by CPP-led security officials and then leaked to the Thai military in an effort to discredit Sam Rainsy abroad. Mol Roeup, director of military intelligence, said Wednesday that he did not know how Chavalit obtained the tape.