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Civilian deaths probed

Thailand's National Human Rights Commission is investigating allegations that the Thai military was involved in more than 20 extrajudicial killings of Cambodian civilians over the last four years, according to a member of the International Commission of Jurists.

Sarawut Pratoomraj, a senior programme officer at the International Commission of Jurists in Bangkok, told The Post yesterday that a subcommittee of the country’s national rights body had this week agreed to investigate a complaint over the allegations.

He also said it would begin questioning the Thai military in the border province of Surin late next month.

The complaint, submitted on June 21 and signed by 20 prominent Thai academics, activists and lawyers, calls for an “immediate investigation” into more than 20 deaths since the border conflict erupted in 2008. Most the cases involve men from border villages who were shot while logging inside Thailand and include a 16-year-old boy who was allegedly burned to death.

A member of the subcommittee confirmed it was looking into the complaint, but declined to comment further.

“As I am a member of [the] subcommittee on Civil and Political Rights … that will be considering the complaint, I feel that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time,” former senator Jon Ungphakorn wrote in an email.

Investigations into the more than 20 alleged extrajudicial killings by rights groups Adhoc and the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights are included as supporting documents.

The documents submitted to the Thai commission include cases from July 3, 2008, to March 17 this year. These comprise three deaths in 2008, eight in 2009, six in 2010, and one this year. They also include cases of Cambodians who disappeared or were jailed in Thailand after being apprehended by Thai soldiers, and others who were shot but returned to Cambodia before they were apprehended.  

The most detailed investigation is into the September 11, 2009, killing of 16-year-old Yon Rith, who was captured by Thai soldiers after having been shot by them near the border in Oddar Meanchey province.  CCHR suggests the boy was tied down in an oxcart and burned alive. 

“Floor markings near his remains exhibit his desperate attempt to escape,” the report reads. “Even if Thai accounts that Yon Rith was dead before he was burned are true, Thai soldiers have committed murder by shooting and killing Yon Rith,” it concludes.

Sarawut said he had urged the panel to “investigate more deeply the Thai military and find out what happened for each case [submitted]”.

If the subcommittee requests additional information on the cases this would signal that it is taking the allegations seriously, he added.

Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said the Cambodian government welcomed an investigation. “If they investigate the killings they will find that their military has been shooting innocent civilians,” he said. The investigation could ease tension between soldiers, and civilians, on both sides of the border, he said.

Thai military and government spokesmen could not be reached yesterday.

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