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Bangkok admits shooting civilians

Thailand Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon
Thailand Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon speaks in Phnom Penh yesterday. Vireak Mai

Bangkok admits shooting civilians

Mere days after Thai Prime Minister and coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha said his country’s soldiers never fire at unarmed civilians in Cambodia, Prayuth’s minister of defence apologised for cross-border fatal shootings and even floated the possibility of compensation for victims.

The remarks came in a joint statement yesterday from Thailand’s Minister of Defence Prawit Wongsuwan and his Cambodian counterpart Tea Banh that was issued after the 10th General Border Committee meeting at the Sofitel in Phnom Penh.

Prawit, who is also deputy prime minister in Prayuth’s government, admitted that the shootings happen, but said they were unintentional.

“For this issue, the Thai side would like to apologise and pay for some damages. We have no intention [to shoot civilians]. This is a problem that we need to discuss and resolve. We do not want it to happen or shoot anyone to death,” Wongsuwan said.

In his portion of the joint statement, Cambodia’s Defence Minister Banh concurred, saying that the Thais were not intent on killing Cambodians who crossed the border illegally.

“It does not happen every day, but in fact, sometimes it does happen … occasionally, but it is not that we do not solve it. We still get a hold of each other and settle it,” he said. “Actually, we have reduced this subsequently, but not entirely, that’s why we still continue to meet to discuss, to delegate responsibility.”

The joint statement also said that the countries would cooperate on fighting human trafficking, the exploitation of labour, illegal logging, deforestation and other illicit activities along the border.

Prawit’s comments are something of a diplomatic about-face after Prayuth earlier this month dismissed reports of a Cambodian woman from Oddar Meanchey province being shot in the head by Thai soldiers on December 9. He said the region was “plagued by illegal logging”, leading to fights between soldiers and loggers. Local officials say the woman, 55-year-old Horn Chem, was looking for food.

Prayuth did, however, say that a joint panel involving both countries would be set up to investigate the shooting, which may have been a response to a letter sent from the Cambodian government demanding that shootings stop and that the Thais look into Chem’s death.

The joint statement did not say how any compensation would be carried out or offer any details about a plan to tackle the problem. Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately return a request for comment, and Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Koy Kuong, could not be reached.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigating officer for rights group Licado, was skeptical that anything would happen to benefit victims.

“If they still continue bilateral talks, they are useless, because they have shot more than 100 citizens, so they have to find a mechanism through the International Criminal Court,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Interior, at least 69 people were shot by Thai soldiers in 2013, and another 165 people have been arrested. Figures from civil society claim that from 2008 to 2014, 123 Cambodians were shot by Thai soldiers.

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