Thai police on Sunday detained a Cambodian Muslim man who they accused of attempting to transport a banned substance into Thailand that a Thai newspaper claimed could be used to make explosives.
Thai newspaper The Nation reported Monday that the substance was the potentially explosive potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. But a Cambodian official disputed this, saying it was in fact an inoffensive ingredient for baking traditional Khmer cakes.
Yoh Kousiek, 24, of Kompong Cham province, was traveling to Malaysia with 59 other Cambodian Muslims when he was detained in Aranyaprathet district, across the border from Cambodia’s Poipet border checkpoint, said Chea Borath, Cambodian consul general to the five Thai provinces bordering Cambodia.
The Nation said police searched Yoh Kousiek’s bags and found 2 kg of potassium nitrate, an explosive substance that can also be used in fermenting fish and meat, as well antibiotics and other medicines that he did not have permission to bring to Thailand.
Chea Borath said Thai police had informed him that although the substance in Yoh Kousiek’s possession is banned, it is an ingredient for baking cakes that Yoh Kousiek was taking to a relative in Malaysia.
The rest of the group was allowed to continue to Malaysia, he said.
Chea Borath said he did not understand why the substance had raised concern and that he would ask Thai authorities to clarify what substances can legally be brought into Thailand.
He also said he was also looking for a lawyer for Yoh Kousiek, who has not been charged with any crime.
Officials at the Thai embassy could not be contacted.
Muslim SRP lawmaker Ahmed Yahya said he did not believe that Cambodian Muslims were unfairly treated by Thai police but that Thai media sometimes incorrectly link them to violence in southern Thailand.
“I know the Cham [don’t] have anything to do with the trouble in the south,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)