The government of Thailand has formally asked to see evidence that incarcerated Sam Rainsy Party member Sok Yoeun is responsible for last year’s Siem Reap rocket attack, a Thai government source and Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday.
Sok Yoeun remains in Thai custody while high-level diplomatic maneuvering continues over whether the opposition party member activist will be extradited to Cambodia to face charges that he attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“It is true that Thai government requested evidence from our government,” said Long Visalo, the undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirming the request was made this week. “Now we are working to prepare it.”
A request for evidence was made this week through the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, the Thai source said.
Sok Yoeun opened Sam Rainsy Party’s first office in Battambang province, and the party has denied he was involved in last year’s attack. Thai authorities arrested him last month on charges that he entered the country illegally after a Thai parliamentarian revealed his presence on Thai soil and accused political opponents of responsibility for harboring him.
The revelation was front page news in Bangkok papers and prompted the Cambodian government to request his extradition. After the story broke, Thai government officials warned journalists there that the situation was politicized and they should be cautious when discussing the case because of tensions between factions in the government.
“Right now, the cases of Mr Sok Yoeun and [Sam Rainsy Party Bangkok office head] Mr Sar Sophorn are under the judicial consideration of Thailand on the charge of illegally entering into the country and we have proceeded according to our internal laws,” the Thai source said this week.
“Since we have received a request for extradition, we are considering it, but we have not decided yet,” the source said.
Thailand and Cambodia have hashed out an extradition treaty, but the Thai government has not yet ratified it. If the Thai government does decide to extradite Sok Yoeun, they would likely do so under a 1929 Thai law that covers extradition in general, according to the Thai government source. The source said the law does not require “the full amount of evidence,” but he said he was unsure exactly how much evidence would be required.
The source noted that several Thai ministries were involved in the decision and that the government was waiting to receive evidence against Sok Yoeun.
A Western diplomatic source noted last week that extradition cases generally don’t require a high level of evidence to be successful, saying only enough was needed to allow for a criminal charge rather than a conviction.
Human rights workers and Sam Rainsy Party members maintain that Sok Yoeun is innocent, claiming that the government’s rocket attack investigation is an orchestrated attempt by the CPP to damage the Sam Rainsy Party.
They have also blasted the government for having only flimsy evidence against the rocket attack suspects—Sok Yoeun and two other Sam Rainsy Party members already in custody in Phnom Penh’s military prison.
Cambodian authorities have so far refused to make public any of the evidence they have gathered against the suspects, though military intelligence chief Mol Roeup has repeatedly claimed there is enough to convict the trio.
Long Visalo said he did not know what evidence the government has against Sok Yoeun, referring questions to the court. Reached by phone, a senior military court official declined to release details. But he complained Thailand was asking for too much and interfering with the court’s independence.
“Thailand should not demand a lot of evidence in the case,” Ney Thol, military court director, said Wednesday. “The country has a law and we already charged him. If [Thailand] demands a lot of evidence like this it means that it conducts the work of the court.”
Military intelligence official Hour Sareth, who is leading the rocket attack investigation, said Wednesday by telephone that authorities have statements from six witnesses who have been questioned by military court officials two or three times, though he would not say who those statements implicated in the attack.
Hour Sareth also said he has audio and videotaped confessions from two of the suspects similar to the confession by Sok Yoeun made in October 1999 and aired by one Thai television station last month. Sok Yoeun has since denied any involvement in the incident, claiming he was forced to admit his role.
“We have, in total, 95 percent of the B40 rocket attack evidence,” Hour Sareth said.
Ney Thol said he had already sent some evidence to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but he declined to disclose what the evidence is.
“We have actually worked on the case for three months and some evidence is collected,” he said. “However, we are working hard to gather more evidence.”
The recent legal wrangling has forced many to re-examine the rocket attack—particularly the details of the attack that may have only gotten hazier more than a year after the incident.
“No one has really been able to actually determine where Hun Sen was at the time,” said one human rights worker. Suggestions have been made in the past that the prime minister, who some witnesses placed as being far away from the rocket blast, may not have been the attacker’s intended target.
“It’s quite difficult to say who the intended victim was and because of this it’s hard to find out who did this,” the rights worker said.
Though the attack has almost always been blamed either on Sam Rainsy Party activists or Hun Sen supporters, the uncertain details cannot rule out that a third independent suspect could be responsible, including Hun Sen’s rivals inside the CPP, the rights worker said. Others have speculated in the past that Khmer Rouge operatives were involved, or disgruntled Funcinpec soldiers. Authorities have shed little light on the incident for the baffled public.
(additional reporting by Seth Meixner and Saing Soenthrith)