Human rights workers have criticized Koh Kong provincial authorities for taking too long to investigate the April killings of two Cambodians on Thai soil, allegedly at the hands of Thai soldiers.
Meas Sambath, 38, and a friend, identified only as Cheav, were shot to death April 5 on the island of Koh Kout in Thailand’s Trat province—just a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen visited the border area to inaugurate a massive new bridge, human rights workers in Koh Kong said last week.
Officials from various human rights organizations charged that Cambodian police are ignoring the incident. They said the government is avoiding an international confrontation.
Relatives of the victims told human rights workers that Meas Sambath and Cheav had been coconut traders for more than four years. The two would travel to Thailand by sea, buy coconuts and sell them in Koh Kong town.
“We don’t know what the motive for this killing was,” said Chan Soveth, a crime monitor for the human rights group Adhoc. “But our authorities have a duty to find out—it is the law.”
Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthong said Sunday that he had ordered competent officers to investigate the killings. However, he said police could not pursue the case because the two men had been in Thailand illegally.
Authorities from Trat province, responding to a letter from Yuth Phouthong, said Meas Sambath and Cheav were fatally shot by Thai soldiers on the island, the governor said.
“We do not know what happened yet. We are investigating it,” said Tuon Pisey, deputy provincial police chief. “I don’t know where they were killed or how they got there.”
The police chief said his officers were continuing to investigate in cooperation with Thai authorities.
The two men’s relatives said they heard rumors about the killings and went to Koh Kout to find out more. They met with Thai authorities, who confirmed that soldiers had killed the men.
The men’s bodies were gone. Relatives said they believed they had been dumped in the sea.