The King has apealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen for the pardon of Sok Yoeun, an opposition
political activist accused of an alleged assassination attempt on Prime Minister
Hun Sen in 1998.
Yoeun is scheduled to be extradited to Cambodia after a Thai court turned down an
appeal on November 28. Yoeun remains in Thai custody.
A pardon is usually given to someone already convicted of a crime. The King's request,
on December 3, puts the government in the awkward position of pardoning someone who
has not yet been tried or even indicted. Officials said they would wait and see if
charges were filed.
"Now, Sok Yoeun is not a criminal," said Khieu Kanharith, a spokesman for
the government. "Police accused him of attempting to kill Hun Sen, so we invited
him for questioning. If it is true, we will send him to court. If not, we will release
Om Yien Teng, an advisor to Hun Sen, said he didn't know when Yoeun was expected
to arrive in Cambodia. He tried to put an innocuous face on the extradition.
"We welcome Sok Yoeun back to the country because he is Khmer," he said.
"I think that people who criticize the government should respect the sovereignty
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of NGOs, and Amnesty
International have called the assassination allegations unfounded and politically
motivated. They accused Hun Sen of targeting Yoeun, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party,
in order to link the opposition leader to the case.
"If Cambodia and Thailand implement this extradition, it will continue to highlight
the political nature of the extradition process and the assassination charges against
him," said Thun Saray, president of ADHOC, a member of CHRAC. "In accordance
with international human rights and refugee law, and for humanitarian reasons, this
man should be freed immediately to be reunited with his family."
The authorities accused Sok Yoeun of carrying out a rocket attack on a government
motorcade in 1998 before a new parliament was sworn in by King Norodom Sihanouk.
Hun Sen claimed the rockets were aimed at him.
Four B-40 rockets were rigged to fire by remote control, although not all were successfully
launched. None of them hit the vehicles carrying Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh and other
government officials. However, one 12-year old was killed in the attack. Eight people
were questioned and released afterward.
Yoeun fled Cambodia in September 1999. He was arrested on December 24 after a Thai
military official complained that Thailand was harboring a Cambodian "terrorist".
Hun Sen soon issued a demand for Yoeun's return to Cambodia.
Although he was initially sentenced to six months in a Thai prison for illegally
entering the country, he has remained in detention pending the outcome of a request
for his extradition to Cambodia. This request was made under an extradition treaty
that does not permit extradition for those accused of political offenses.
Yoeun has already been given refugee status by the United Nations High Commission
for Refugees and is considered to be a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
His family lives in Finland where they have been granted asylum.
The statement released by Amnesty International asserts his return to Cambodia, where
Amnest says he would face an unfair trial and possibly torture, is a violation of
both Thai domestic law and fundamental principles of international law.
"Sok Yoeun's case is clearly highly political and normal judicial procedures
have apparently not been followed," wrote Amnesty International. "This
verdict is rebuke to the UN and demonstrates Thailand's disregard for decisions taken
The United Nations Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht,
said Sok Yoeun stood a significant risk of persecution if returned to Cambodia.