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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Suit threatened over killings

Thai security personnel patrol a section of forest near the Cambodian border in 2013
Thai security personnel patrol a section of forest near the Cambodian border in 2013. CNRP lawmakers are preparing to mount a legal case against the Thai government in regards to shootings along the border. EIA

Suit threatened over killings

After decades of unabated, fatal border shootings, Cambodia’s opposition lawmakers are preparing to fire back by mounting a legal case that would hold Thailand’s prime minister responsible for murder.

“We hope this will serve as a wakeup call. The leader of Thailand cannot expect killing and cruelty by his military to go unpunished and not properly investigated anymore. [Thailand] must be held responsible to the demands of justice,” said CNRP parliamentarian Son Chhay.

Chhay said the opposition is actively seeking an international lawyer who could bring a case to the United Nations.

The planned legal recourse follows a letter last week signed by 17 opposition members who accused Thailand of encouraging bloodshed by fostering impunity. They also called for an independent investigation into allegations that two men were burned alive by Thai soldiers in January.

In its own sharply worded statement last week, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the latest shooting deaths of three Cambodian loggers who were killed by Thai soldiers’ fire at the beginning of this month.

“These barbarian acts flagrantly violated not only agreements between the two governments, but the most elementary laws of any civilised country and the international law on human rights,” the letter dated Friday reads.

But the letter notes similar documents’ ineffectiveness, citing years of like-worded diplomatic notes ignored by Thai counterparts.

“The Thai killing machine is being used on Cambodian people,” said Nay Vandy, deputy head of human rights monitoring at rights group Adhoc. “There have been many diplomatic notes, all ignored.

They could be used as evidence against Thailand, but otherwise I see no effectiveness.”

By Adhoc’s count, 124 Cambodians have been shot dead by Thai soldiers’ fire from 2008 to 2014. But according to political analysts, a criminal case from the opposition will likely do nothing more than escalate already fractious ties between the neighbours by buttressing jingoist rhetoric.

“I believe the Thai regime would simply ignore the case, perhaps even use it to build more anti-Cambodian nationalism in Thailand in support of the military dictatorship,” said Paul Chambers of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai.

The opposition is also pursuing another course of action against Thailand: lobbying ASEAN to pick up the issue at the next summit in April.

“This could prove to be a crucial test for the ASEAN,” said Ou Virak, an independent analyst who cited an opportunity for the ASEAN to redeem a reputation flagging since South China Sea negations stagnated.

“If the ASEAN is going to be credible, it has to find a way to deal with such issues.”

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