Thai military officers have acknowledged their soldiers burned the body of a 16-year-old Cambodian boy suspected of illegal logging, but insist they only did so after he was dead, the deputy chief of the Thailand-Cambodia relations office at the Poipet border crossing said Monday.
Leu Chandara said the officers made the admission during a meeting last week, but Cambodian officials are not buying Thailand’s version of events. “We don’t believe them and we are going to conduct our own investigation,” he said. If the story were true, he added, it would raise questions about the soldiers’ motives for disposing of the body without first consulting the Cambodian government.
“They said they did not burn the teenager alive, but why did they dare to burn his body without informing Cambodian authorities?” he said. “What they are doing is trying to hide their bad actions.”
Officials in Oddar Meanchey province accused Thai officials of shooting Yon Rith and burning him alive on September 11, shortly after he was arrested and accused of illegally felling trees in Thai territory. Relatives claim he was lashed to an ox cart before soldiers set him alight. Marks on the cart prove he was alive at the time, they said.
Another Cambodian teenager, 18-year-old Mao Kleung, was also shot and severely wounded by Thai soldiers, but villagers managed to carry him to safety on Cambodian territory.
Like Leu Chandara, Yon Rith’s parents said the account from Thai military officials was dubious. “They are clearly just trying to hide the fact that their armed forces did a cruel thing,” said Nin Khom, Yon Rith’s mother.
Saing Yon, the father of the dead teenager, said: “I would request that the Cambodian government and international organisations find justice for my son and stop the Thai armed forces from committing cruel crimes against human beings in the future.”
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he had instructed the Cambodian consulate in Thailand’s Sa Kaew province to investigate the case, but consulate officials were also busy with the case of 16 Cambodians accused of illegal logging along a disputed border area.
The group has been found guilty by a Thai court of illegal entry and destruction of forestry and has been sentenced to up to nine years in prison.
The Cambodian Foreign Ministry said last week it planned to appeal against the sentence.
Officials at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment Monday.