Two Thai nationals accused of being the masterminds of a recent bomb attack in Bangkok were arrested Saturday in Siem Reap province and were to be handed over to Thai authorities in Phnom Penh today, officials said.
Their arrests came less than a week after the government flatly rejected Thai media reports that the pair, who have been associated with the anti-Thai government “red shirt” movement, had crossed into Cambodia a day after the bombing.
After May’s deadly and destructive red shirt protests in central Bangkok, in which 80 civilians and six soldiers were killed, the government has consistently denied Thai accusations of Cambodian involvement in red shirt activities, or that red shirt elements were active in Cambodia, where fugitive ex-Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the symbol of the red shirt movement, was named a government adviser in October.
The arrests announced Saturday by the Foreign Ministry revealed that the government had spoken too soon on June 28 when it rejected as “groundless and ill-intentioned” Thai media reports claiming that the pair had entered Cambodia via Oddar Meanchey province.
Both in their early 40s, Kobchai Boonplod and Varissareeya Boonsom, identified as Warisaya Boonsom in Thai media reports, were arrested in Siem Reap province at about 5 pm on Saturday for their alleged involvement in a bombing outside the Bhumjaithai Party headquarters in Bangkok on June 22, a Foreign Ministry statement said.
The party is the main partner in the six-party governing coalition of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
“Even though there was no request from Thailand’s Royal Government, the Royal Government of Cambodia has decided to arrest and send those two terrorists back to Thailand,” the statement said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that the arrests had occurred because the government reviewed Thai news reports indicating that the pair had crossed into Cambodia.
“We got knowledge from the media [about] the two suspects who masterminded the bombing on June 22,” Mr Kuong said. At the time that the government rejected the news reports, it had no knowledge that the pair were in Cambodia, he added.
Relations between Thailand and Cambodia were downgraded last year when both countries withdrew their ambassadors after the appointment of Mr Thaksin as a government adviser.
Asked whether the arrests would help thaw bilateral relations, Mr Kuong said that it was impossible to say.
“For Cambodia, our only intention is to demonstrate our full commitment to a policy against terrorist acts,” he said.
Thailand reacted positively to news of the arrests yesterday. Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that while he could not comment directly about the case, the Thai government welcomed cooperation between the two countries.
“Any cooperation is welcome and we are very much looking forward to working together in the future,” Mr Panitan said by telephone from Bangkok.
According to the Bangkok Post, Mr Abhisit said during an address on national television yesterday that more would be known today about the arrest of the two suspects.
“The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh is requesting Cambodia to send the pair back to Thailand,” Mr Abhisit was quoted as saying. “I expect the issue will be clear by tomorrow.”
According to Thai news reports, Thai police allege that Mr Kobchai and Ms Varissareeya helped organize a June 22 bomb attack in which an explosive device hidden in a fruit cart blew up near the Bhumjaithai Party’s headquarters on Bangkok’s Phahon Yothin Road.
One man, who reportedly later admitted to police that he was hired to carry out the bombing, was seriously injured in the blast.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Cambodian Interior Ministry, said yesterday that Cambodian authorities would investigate the case involving the two suspects before handing them over to Thai diplomats at Phnom Penh International Airport this morning.
“We have particular evidence and the cooperation with Thai authorities,” Lt Gen Sopheak said, adding that he did not know where in Siem Reap province the two men were arrested.