Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Monday accused Cambodian newspapers of trying to stoke tension between the two countries by running false stories about Thai soldiers killing Cambodians on the border, Thai newspapers reported on Tuesday.
It was unclear what killings Thaksin was referring to, but local newspapers have reported in recent days claims by Cambodian police that Thai forces shot a man dead in Battambang province on May 17.
“The reports about Thai soldiers shooting Cambodians [are] not true,” the Bangkok Post quoted Thaksin as saying.
“Cambodian media which report false stories are useless newspapers. They report the sensational stories with the aim of creating a sense of nationalism and causing the conflict between the two countries,” Thaksin told reporters before leaving Thailand for South Korea, according to the Bangkok Post.
The Thai Embassy said Monday that it could not comment on the latest reported killing at the border.
Doung Sarom, Deputy police chief of Battambang province’s Kamrieng district, where a Cambodian man, Pet Den, was reportedly killed on May 17, reported Tuesday that Thai soldiers shot the victim.
Doung Sarom said Pet Den, 43, was being chased by Thai troops back across the Cambodian border when he was shot.
He had crossed the border at an earlier point to work illegally in Thailand, the deputy police chief said.
Pet Den was with three friends who saw the incident and survived, Doung Sarom added.
Police in Kamrieng district on Friday reported an entirely different story regarding Pet Den’s death.
Deputy district police Chief Nol Sok claimed that Pet Den was shot dead by Thai soldiers while he was taking a bath in a river some 500 meters from his village.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was too busy to speak to a reporter on Tuesday.
Newspaper editors who ran the story stood by their reports on Tuesday.
“Should we keep quiet when a Thai kills a Cambodian?” Pen Samithi, editor-in-chief of the Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea said, adding that the decision to run the story was not an expression of hatred towards the Thais.
Man Bunthoeun, editor-in-chief of the little-known Sahasawath Thmei, said the Thai prime minister “should try and catch” the Thai soldiers who allegedly killed Pet Den and not blame the Cambodian media.
Rights workers said Tuesday that they have received previous reports of Thai forces killing Cambodians near the border.
“We have received reports of Thai [officials] wounding and shooting Cambodians along the border around Poipet, Anlong Veng and Koh Kong,” said Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho.
She declined to say how many reports Licadho has received, or when they were received, but urged Cambodian and Thai authorities to cooperate in their investigations.
This is not the first time that Cambodian newspapers have been accused of stirring up anti-Thai sentiment.
Before the Jan 29, 2003, anti-Thai riots, the Khmer language press ran unsubstantiated reports that a Thai actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.
The unsubstantiated report was broadcast on national radio and in the Khmer-language Koh Santepheap and Kampuchea Thmey Daily newspapers.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also railed against the actress in a radio broadcast that has been partially blamed for igniting the riots.
Thai Ambassador Piyawat Niyomrerks said Tuesday that he did not feel the Cambodian media was generating anti-Thai sentiment, adding that relations between the two countries remain “very good.”
“They enjoy freedom of speech in this country, and people can judge for themselves” about the accuracy of the reporting, he said.
Piyawat Niyomrerks said he did not know whether Thai soldiers ever kill Cambodians and was not in a position to comment on Pet Den’s death.
“In times of peace, I don’t think that people, in uniform or not, should kill each other,” he added.
Thai police are investigating the killings of five Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand earlier this month, he said.
Police “are doing their work…
the same as if they were working on the deaths of Thai nationals,” he said.