CAMBODIA on Sunday rejected claims that migrant workers from the Kingdom had been smuggling “bombmaking materials” across the border into Thailand, as the government sought to distance itself from unrest in the neighbouring country.
Thailand’s The Nation newspaper reported on Saturday that Thai army officials at the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border crossing had confiscated pressurised gas cans and spikes hidden inside fertiliser bags from a group of 207 Cambodian workers bound for factory jobs in the southern Thai province of Songkhla.
Chan Wongwaimethee, commander of Thai Army Ranger Company 1206, told The Nation that the workers could have been collaborating with Muslim insurgents who have waged a bloody separatist campaign in southern Thailand over the last few years.
“They might have been taking the materials to rebel groups in the southern border provinces,” Chan said.
But Koy Kuong said an investigation of the incident had subsequently revealed that the cart in which the materials were discovered did not belong to any of the 207 workers. The workers were detained in Thailand’s Prachinburi province for several hours on Saturday before Cambodian consular officials secured their release, he added.
The Thai authorities’ “stupid assumption was made because they cannot control their internal situation, so they attempted to put blame on the Cambodian workers,” Koy Kuong said. “Actually, the bombmaking materials belonged to a man who owned the cart and joined the workers on the trip.”
Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean said Cambodian migrants passing through the popular border crossing at Poipet had never been discovered carrying weaponry or explosives into Thailand.
“They only carry agricultural equipment when they go into Thailand,” he said.
Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said Sunday that officials in Bangkok had yet to receive a full report on the incident.
“We have to verify that ... with the agencies concerned,” he said.
Also on Sunday, Koy Kuong said Cambodian consular officials were in the process of identifying witnesses and helping to prepare the defence of 27-year-old San Mony Phet, a Cambodian man who was arrested in Bangkok earlier this month on suspicion of involvement in an arson attack committed by antigovernment Red Shirt protesters.
“We have already prepared the lawyer and identified key witnesses to defend [San Mony Phet] in case he appears in court, but so far we have not received any information from Thai authorities about whether he will face charges or whether the case will be solved informally,” Koy Kuong said.
San Mony Phet remained in police custody as of Sunday, Koy Kuong added.
The Battambang native, who had worked legally in Thailand for five years and is married to a Thai woman, was reportedly arrested outside the beverage shop in Bangkok at which he worked during the violent protests in the Thai capital that claimed at least 88 lives and injured around 1,900.
Fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has made several high-profile visits to Cambodia since being appointed a government economic adviser last year, is wanted on terrorism charges in connection with the protests after a warrant for his arrest was issued in Bangkok last week. Reuters and other news outlets have reported that the warrant accuses Thaksin of organising the smuggling of weaponry across the border from Cambodia into Thailand, though Thani said Sunday that such accounts were unsubstantiated.
“There were reports that a neighbouring country was involved, but as far as the Thai government is concerned, we have found no evidence of that, and the government does not think that was the case,” Thani said.
Koy Kuong said Sunday that if Thaksin expresses a desire to return to Cambodia, “the Cambodian government will consider about his plan”. The terrorism charges, he added, are an “internal affair of Thailand”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE