A Sam Rainsy Party member who fled to Thailand some three months ago after becoming a suspect in last year’s rocket attack in Siem Reap has been given at least temporary protection by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees office in Bangkok.
Sok Yuen, who is wanted under an arrest warrant for an attack described by Hun Sen’s supporters as an attempt on the prime minister’s life, was granted “concerned persons status,” according to a Thai diplomat Tuesday.
This allows Sok Yuen to remain in Thailand while the Bangkok UNHCR office investigates his claim for political refugee status. Sok Yuen could be eventually granted refugee status in Thailand, according to a Phnom Penh UNHCR official, but that would not necessarily guarantee his continued immunity from arrest in Cambodia.
The diplomat denied claims by opposition leader Sam Rainsy that Sok Yuen was immediately given refugee status by UNHCR, saying that no such request had even been made to the Thai government.
Even with refugee status, Sok Yuen would not have the rights of a Thai citizen, and Thailand is one of the few countries that has signed an extradition treaty with Cambodia, the UNHCR official said.
Hun Sen, during a televised address Tuesday on state-run TVK, requested the Thai government send Sok Yuen back to Cambodia.
Hun Sen called Sok Yuen a terrorist who must be dealt with through the courts.
Two other Sam Rainsy Party members remain in custody after being arrested earlier this year in connection with the September 1998 rocket attack, which killed a boy and injured three family members.
Opposition party officials call the arrests another example of the political intimidation they suffer at the hands of the ruling CPP. Human rights workers also have questioned the arrests.
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 attack was orchestrated by members of his own camp to justify a crackdown of opposition party members.
The prime minister’s request came only a day after Sok Yuen’s name was used by former Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to attack Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan.
Chavalit claimed Surin was mentioned during a taped telephone conversation between Sok Yuen and Sam Rainsy, who were allegedly discussing asylum for Sok Yuen in Thailand, according to reports in the Bangkok Post.
On the floor of the Thai Parliament, Chavilt accused the Sam Rainsy Party of having links with an anti-American movement allegedly led by terrorist Osama bin Laden and of contacting Surin seeking asylum for Sok Yuen.
On Monday, Sam Rainsy dismissed claims of his party’s relationship to international terrorists as a “very, very far-fetched” story created by the CPP to gain support abroad.
“They want sympathy from the Americans who see the shadow of bin Laden in Cambodia,” Sam Rainsy said.
Responding to reports of a possible attack, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh has sent its non-essential personnel home and remains on a heightened level of security through the end of the year.
Rights workers in Phnom Penh also see recent events in Cambodia as an attempt by the CPP to discredit Sam Rainsy abroad, where he has some support for his efforts in Cambodia.
Sam Rainsy himself has said he senses increasingly frequent and orchestrated attacks against his party activists and characterized allegations by Chavalit as an extension of that.