Thai authorities denied entry to nearly 250 Cambodian passengers, including senior government officials, who were on board a Christmas Day cruise from Sihanoukville to the Thai beach resort of Pattaya, passengers and officials of the cruise company have claimed.
Thai immigration officials allowed other nationalities, including Vietnamese and Chinese passengers, to enter Thailand, but stopped all 244 Cambodians on board the 170-meter-long Jupiter Cruise liner, which left Sihanoukville on Dec 24 carrying around 400 passengers and arrived off the coast of Thailand the next day.
All but five of the Cambodian passengers had valid Thai visas or visa exemptions as they held diplomatic passports, said Soth Sophin, deputy director of Lam and Brother Company, which organized the cruise to Thailand.
“Most of the passengers had Thai visas, but they still denied them from entering their country,” Soth Sophin said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Benson Samay, a lawyer for Jupiter Cruise and a passenger on the Dec 24 trip, said the Cambodian passengers who joined the cruise for its inaugural voyage were furious after being told they could not disembark when the ship docked on Christmas Day off the coast of Pattaya.
“The inauguration tour had become a disaster,” Benson Samay said, adding that the Cambodian passengers were made up of senators, RCAF generals, court officials and senior government officials.
Benson Samay said he believes Thailand’s refusal to allow Cambodians into the country was related to the ongoing conflict over Preah Vihear temple.
“They just did it to retaliate against us,” said Benson Samay, who is also a government adviser and the former lawyer for deceased Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok.
Tharit Charungvat, director-general of Thailand’s Information Department and spokesman for the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry, said by e-mail Friday that his ministry was unaware of the alleged Dec 25 incident, and that he thought it was “highly unlikely” that the incident happened.
“The Foreign Ministry is not aware of such occurrence of the 25th December, or of any discriminatory treatment against Cambodians by Thai authorities,” he wrote.
“[As] a principle, Thai immigration authorities would equally facilitate all visitors to Thailand, regardless of their nationalities, if they have their traveling documents and visas in order,” he wrote.
“Thailand considers Cambodia as one of its friendly and close neighbor[s], so in normal circumstances there is no reason at all to bar Cambodians from entering Thailand,” he added.
“However, the Thai authorities would be ready to investigate if there are any detailed complaints.”
Several attempts to contact officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh for comment were unsuccessful.
CPP Senator Chhit Kim Yeat, who was a passenger on the ship, said Monday he felt insulted when Thai immigration officials boarded the ship and ordered that only the Cambodian travelers could not enter Thailand.
“Thai authorities violated our rights. They were seemingly looking down on us,” he said, adding that he holds a diplomatic passport and does not require a visa to visit Thailand.
“Most of the passengers had visas,” he said. “The ones that didn’t did not wish to get off the ship.”
Battambang Provincial Prosecutor Sar Yosthavrak said Monday that he was aboard the Jupiter Cruise liner for its inaugural trip and was denied entry into Thailand despite having a visa. However, Sar Yosthavrak said he suspects Lam and Brother are partly to blame for the mishap.
“It could be a problem between the company and Thai authorities,” he said.
Soth Sophin said the ship, which sails under a Panamanian flag, returned to Sihanoukville on Dec 26.
Jupiter Cruise is jointly owned by a Cambodian and a Vietnamese-Australian, he said, but declined to name the owners.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Monday he was unaware of the incident.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)