phnom malai, Banteay Meanchey province – Thai authorities have arrested at least six Cambodians who fled across the northwest border after allegedly trying to retake this former Khmer Rouge stronghold, a district official said last week.
The six allegedly were part of a Nov 12 incident in which the district police headquarters in Phnom Malai was looted and police were disarmed. District officials claim the group was marching to capture a tank and artillery base called Factory 93 about 5 km from town when finally stopped by government troops.
“We did our best to ward them off from capturing the tank base because that would have caused a bigger problem,” Phy Phun, district deputy governor, said Thursday. “Our forces ordered them to peacefully drop their guns. They complied, but some of them fled to the jungle. Some others fled to Thailand.”
Phy Phun said Thai authorities arrested six Cambodians who “infiltrated its soil with three rifles.” The local human rights group Adhoc in Phnom Penh has reported that nine Cambodians are being detained in Thailand.
However, a Thai Embassy official in Phnom Penh said Monday that he had no report of any arrests. “I have not received any information about that,” the embassy official said.
Fifteen people arrested in Phnom Malai in connection with the Nov 12 incident were charged last week in Battambang with committing acts of terrorism. The detainees denied the charges.
A statement faxed from a group calling itself the Cambodian Freedom Fighters claimed that Phnom Malai residents merely held an anti-government demonstration.
Residents interviewed last week in Phnom Malai said they had never heard of the Freedom Fighters group.
Phy Phun maintained that the six Cambodians who fled to Thailand were hard-liners loyal to Khmer Rouge strongman Ta Mok. He said those charged in court last week in Battambang were opposition party members.
He said he believes the Thais will return the Cambodians to Cambodian authorities via the Region 5 military headquarters in Poipet.
Vendors and residents interviewed in Phnom Malai last week said they believed the police still held at least 100 people from the Nov 12 incident.
But Phy Phun denied that was the case. “We released all the [other] people,” he said, adding that many confessed they had participated in the march just to receive a rice donation.
Several residents said they witnessed the incident in which the district police headquarters was looted and police disarmed.
“I saw many people with heavy arms break down the door of the building with an ax,” said Vin Tha, a construction worker. “I was very scared when they arrived, but they told me not to worry because they would not hurt me. They remained there about an hour before they moved on.”
Nhim Eng, a watch repairman, said he believes the police acted appropriately. “The police made no mistake in arresting those people because after they took an ax to the district head office; the police chased them and knew exactly who they were.”