As they were led by military police towards a plane waiting to deport them from Phnom Penh to Thailand yesterday, two Thai nationals accused of masterminding a recent bomb attack in Bangkok declared their innocence and claimed the Thai government would find a way to kill them upon their return.
The pair was handed to Thailand without a formal extradition request and without having been provided with access to a lawyer in Cambodia, Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo said yesterday.
Mr Visalo formally handed control of the Thai suspects–Kobchai Boonplod and Varissareeya Boonsom–to Thai Embassy officials inside at Phnom Penh International Airport’s VIP terminal yesterday morning.
Flanked by a mob of reporters, photographers and cameramen, Mr Kobchai and Ms Varissareeya, who were arrested in Siem Reap City on Saturday, were then guided onto the tarmac where a bus waited to take them to a passenger plane bound for Bangkok.
As she was pushed away by military police, Ms Varissareeya begged reporters for help.
“Please help us,” she said. “If I go back to Thailand, I will die. I know everything in Thailand: what [and] who killed people where.”
Mr Kobchai said that he and Ms Varissareeya were members of the anti-Thai government “red shirt” movement but said they were not involved in a June 22 bomb attack outside the government-aligned Bhumjaithai Party headquarters in Bangkok. The blast seriously injured one man, who was himself later arrested for planting the bomb.
“We did not do that,” Mr Kobchai said in response to a reporter’s question about the pair’s alleged involvement in the bombing, adding that he did not believe their case would be handled fairly by the Thai courts.
“We are red shirts…. If we are sent back to Thailand, they will kill us. The government will kill us,” he said.
According to a report by the official Thai News Agency, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday thanked Cambodia for sending the two suspects back to Thailand.
“For sending the bomb suspects, I must say thank you for the cooperation of the Cambodian authorities,” Mr Abhisit was quoted as saying. “We will seek further cooperation from them in case there are still Thai suspects seeking shelter there, including fugitive ex-premier Thaksin [Shinawatra].”
TNA also quoted a Thai police official as saying that the pair would be charged with “association with producing and possessing an explosive device and terrorism.”
Under Thai law, terrorism charges can carry the death penalty as the maximum sentence.
During the formal ceremony to mark the handover of the suspects, Mr Visalo of the Foreign Ministry told Suwat Kaewsook, charge d’affaires at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, that Cambodian authorities had arrested the two suspects because of the government’s antiterrorism policy.
“I would…like to say to you that it is our principle to struggle against the terrorists and even though there are no requests from your embassy, we arrested them and hand over to you,” Mr Visalo said to his Thai counterpart, who thanked Cambodia for its cooperation.
Despite Mr Kobchai and Ms Varissareeya’s claims of innocence, Mr Visalo told reporters after the detainees’ handover that the suspects had confessed their guilt to Cambodian authorities.
“They accept that they make the bomb in Thailand,” he said, adding that while the pair had been denied access to Cambodian courts, they could seek lawyers in Thailand.
“The first step: our authorities arrested them and hand over to Thailand…. I think there in Thailand, they will look for the lawyer,” he said.
The UN human rights office in Phnom Penh said yesterday that it could not specifically comment on the arrests but that Cambodia did have obligations under international conventions to extradite detainees under due process of law.
“[F]rom the point of view of human rights law, in this context, Cambodia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party, apply to foreign nationals as they apply to Cambodians,” the statement said.
“Extradition processes should be carried out with due process, including the existence of a request for extradition (otherwise removal must be justified under immigration laws) and the possibility for the individuals concerned to appeal against the decision of the government.
“Cambodia has abolished the death penalty and the ICCPR’s provisions on the right to life suggest that extradition from Cambodia should not take place if there is a risk of the death penalty being imposed.”
Officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached yesterday, while officials from the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry in Bangkok did not reply to questions submitted via the secretariat of the Thai Prime Minister.
Cambodia aroused international condemnation in December when it deported 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China in violation of the UN refugee convention and before they had completed the asylum application process.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said yesterday that unless the two suspects had returned to Thailand willingly, they should have been provided with a chance to plead their case in a Cambodian court.
“If they do not want to go back, then they have a right to go to a court…which can decide [on their fate] through legal processes,” Mr Sam Oeun said.
“I think that it is better for the government to show that it abides by the rule of law by giving them the chance to complain to a court. Otherwise we will be criticized by the international community.”