Interior Minister Orders Probe Into Cross-Border Arms Cache

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Friday announced an investigation into an arms cache that Thai officials found in a crashed pickup truck just beyond a border checkpoint earlier this month, saying the weapons “could have been smuggled” from Cambodia, officials said.

Mr. Kheng made the comments during a ceremony appointing Mithona Phouthorng as the new governor of Koh Kong province—the first female governor in Cambodia—provincial officials said.

Sar Kheng
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at the appointing ceremony of provincial Koh Kong new governor Mithona Phouthorng on Friday, in a photograph posted to Interior Ministry website.

Bun Loeut, whom Ms. Mithona replaced as governor of the coastal province, confirmed that Mr. Kheng had told the gathering that the weapons—which included machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, ammunition and grenades—“could have been smuggled from Cambodia.”

National Police chief Neth Savoeun was contacting Thai police to investigate where the weapons were from, where they were headed and who was involved, Mr. Kheng said on Friday, according to Fresh News.

General Savoeun and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached on Sunday.

On Friday, provincial police chief Samkhit Vien confirmed that the interior minister had ordered a probe into the arms cache.

The arms were discovered by Thai authorities on June 3 in the crashed truck of Thai air force officer Pakhin Detphong in Thailand’s Trat province.

Sovan Bunthoeun, director of the Cham Yeam International Checkpoint in Koh Kong province, said on Sunday that Thai authorities were continuing to investigate Lean Pisith, a police officer working at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, who was arrested after driving near the scene of the crashed truck.

Mr. Pisith, Mr. Pakhin and another Thai national were charged with illegal weapons possession and were being held in Trat provincial prison awaiting trial on suspicion of weapons smuggling, the Bangkok Post reported on June 18.

Mr. Bunthoeun said Mr. Pisith lived in Koh Kong province and usually traveled to Thailand through the Cham Yeam checkpoint.

The Defense Ministry said earlier this month that it was also investigating allegations by Thai authorities that the weapons had been illegally smuggled across Cambodia’s border. Thai investigators said the seized weapons were intended to be sold in Burma, the Bangkok Post reported.

The Thai officer, Mr. Pakhin, admitted under questioning to buying the arms from an unidentified Cambodian, Thai officials said.

Reports in Thai media also claimed that the weapons stash was connected to Defense Minister Tea Banh, an allegation General Banh denied on June 12. He said the cache was not from Cambodia and that the arrested Cambodian man was not an official.

Gen. Banh said at the time that the man was detained because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sok Phal, head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, on Sunday referred questions to the National Police, whose spokesman, Kirth Chantharith, could not be reached.

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