AUTHORITIES in Oddar Meanchey province said Thursday they have compiled a report including solid evidence that proves a Cambodian teenager was shot and burned alive by Thai soldiers last month.
The report forms part of Cambodia’s investigation into a case that triggered outrage and condemnation from senior government officials this side of the border.
“We have concluded Yon Rith was burned alive after he was shot and injured by Thai soldiers,” said Noun Eth, police chief in Oddar Meanchey’s Samrong town, who collected photos and spoke with witnesses who were near the victim before he died. “We are strictly investigating this case, and we have witnesses and evidence to confirm.”
Cambodian officials have long maintained that Yon Rith, 16, was burned alive by Thai soldiers, who suspected him of illegal logging along the disputed border zone. In the days following the incident, which took place in early September, a Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman denied the allegations in a Bangkok newspaper.
Thai officials have since acknowledged that Thai soldiers burned the boy’s body, but insisted they did so only after he died, the deputy chief of the Thai-Cambodian border crossing in Poipet told the Post in late September.
Cambodian officials, however, rejected the Thai denials. “Thai soldiers burned the Cambodian teenager alive because they might have been angry at Cambodians for tensions along the border at the Preah Vihear temple,” Noun Eth suggested.
The boy’s father, Saing Yon, said he saw his son’s arm bones still bound with burned rope to an ox cart. “I saw burning rope around my son’s arm bones. I saw his footsteps when he tried to escape the burning,” Saing Yon said. “If I had a video camera or a camera, I would take photos for Thai soldiers to see.”
Chhim Sivuth, secretary general for Oddar Meanchey province, said investigators interviewed 10 witnesses who saw Yon Rith being shot. They claimed Thai soldiers grabbed the boy, preventing him from fleeing. “Thai soldiers never confessed their mistake,” Chhim Sivuth said.
He contrasted the Thai soldiers’ alleged actions with those of Cambodian soldiers, who he said arrested six Thai teenagers who had strayed into Cambodian territory a little more than a week after Yon Rith’s charred remains were found.
“We released them on the same day after they were questioned,” Chhim Sivuth said. “Our soldiers have good hearts, and they respect human beings. They do not shoot unarmed people.”
Thai embassy officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday. The Cambodian government had not yet received the Oddar Meanchey report, but spokesman Koy Kuong said officials would read it and send a diplomatic note to the Thais.
Thai soldiers were also accused of firing warning shots at Cambodian troops in the same region this week. The Thais twice fired an M79 grenade launcher when Cambodian armed forces came to inspect the construction of three small houses in a disputed border area during the incident Monday, said Chhim Sivuth, secretary general for Oddar Meanchey province.
“Our soldiers retreated to avoid armed confrontation,” Chhim Sivuth said. “Their shots were to warn our soldiers not to go and see their construction in the disputed area.”
The shots were fired near Ta Krabey temple in Oddar Meanchey’s Banteay Ampil district, Chhim Sivuth said. Cambodian authorities are still concerned about the houses, although soldiers did not report seeing any Thai soldiers inside them.
“Our commanders are asking to meet the Thai side to ask them about these houses because they are in a disputed area,” Chhim Sivuth said.
Chea Morn, the commander for Military Region 4, said he was unaware of the incident.