Thai soldiers admitted to burning alive two men last week who may have been undocumented Cambodians, Battambang military officials said yesterday.
Cambodian officers said their Thai counterparts informed them that on the night of January 7, four Cambodians illegally crossed the border with intentions of evading taxes on a smuggled motorbike.
“While they were dragging [the motorcycle] across the border, the soldiers shot at them, firing about 10 bullets. But all of the bullets missed so they deployed more soldiers and arrested two Cambodians while the other two escaped. The soldiers then burnt the two men alive in car tires,” said Anh Kamal, deputy military commander in Battambang’s Sampov Loun district.
Since the incident, Cambodian military and police have reported being denied access to the site of the killings. Cellphone photos posted by locals claiming to have seen the spot show two ash-covered indentations side by side.
The charred remains were sent to Bangkok for a biopsy to confirm identities, authorities said. Thailand has not yet officially confirmed the nationality of the deceased men. Its Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached.
“The Thai authorities have told us that they need about 10 days to check and clarify if they are Cambodian or Thai,” said Moung Rithiya, director of the information and research unit of Battambang province.
But a man claiming to be the brother of two recently missing Cambodians – Souv Ros, 21, and Voeun Chi, 36 – said he doesn’t need to wait.
“My two brothers asked my parents’ permission to go to Thailand to work on a sugar farm. Later that day, I heard people talking about an arrest by Thai soldiers, so I tried to call [my brothers] but got no connection,” said Voeun Bean in a recorded police interview obtained yesterday. “I heard from people who worked [in that area] as potato diggers that Thailand has arrested and burned Cambodians. I suspect they are my brothers.”
Bean could not be reached by phone yesterday about whether he thinks his brothers could be the two men Thai soldiers said are still missing.
South of the Sa Kaeo incident site where the bodies were recovered, embassy officials in Bangkok have been pulled into a joint investigation.
“Officials of the Cambodian Embassy are now cooperating with the Thai authorities to examine the bodies. We … and Thai [authorities] will identify the nationality of the bodies and find the victim’s families since Thailand is claiming those bodies could belong to Thai people too,” said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We have warned them that if they are Cambodian, we will file a complaint about this,” he said, though declined to go into further detail about what kind of complaint he envisioned.
In a separate shooting incident last month, Thailand initially denied soldiers had killed and buried a 55-year-old Cambodian woman foraging for food alongside the border.
Just days after Thai Prime Minister and coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha said his soldiers never fired at unarmed Cambodian civilians, Thailand’s minister of defence pulled an about-face and apologised for cross-border fatal shootings.