UN Safe Passage Sought for Attack Suspects

With the anticipated release of two of his activists from a Thai jail, opposition party leader Sam Rain­sy is pushing the UN to ar­range passage for the men to a third country rather than face pos­sible criminal prosecution up­on returning to Cambodia.

Sok Yoeun, an opposition activ­ist from Battambang, and Sar Soph­oan, who heads the party’s Bang­kok office, are both nearing the end of six-month jail senten­ces for immigration violations.

“If they are not accepted by a third country at the time of their re­lease, their situation will indeed become very difficult….Will they be tragically sent back to Cambo­dia?” Sam Rainsy wrote in a May 11 letter to Francois Fouinat, di­rector of the UN High Commis­sioner for Refugees’ Asia Pacific of­fice in Geneva.

While Sam Rainsy indicated in the letter he had received favorable responses from a number of West­ern embassies on the matter, party treasurer Yim Sovann said Monday there has been no re­sponse yet from the UN and that no decision on resettlement has been reached.

Sar Sophoan was arrested for har­boring Sok Yoeun, who fled to Thailand late last year after be­ing accused of orchestrating the Sep­tember 1998 rocket attack in Si­em Reap that the government claims was an attempt on Prime Min­­ister Hun Sen’s life.

Sok Yoeun’s presence in Thai­land sparked the Cambodian gov­ernment’s first extradition at­tempt, but the Thai government’s refusal to return him outright cast doubt on Cambodia’s claims that he was responsible for the attack, which killed one bystander.

After escaping to Thailand following a roundup of rocket attack suspects—mostly Sam Rainsy Par­ty members from Battam­bang—Sok Yoeun was granted “person of concern” status by the UNHCR while the Thai government waited for evidence to ar­rive from Cambodia justifying his ex­tradition.

Though a formal extradition re­quest was filed with the Thais, it is unclear what evidence was given to support that request.

Sam Rainsy leaders continue to claim the rocket attack was used by Hun Sen supporters as a way to justify further harassment of op­position party members.

The two other party activists ar­rested in connection with the at­tack, Kong Bun Heang and Mung Davuth, were released from Phnom Penh’s military pri­son after six months when no formal charges were filed against them.

 

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