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.