Days after Cambodian and Thai officials reportedly agreed on closer coordination over “foreign fugitives”, opposition party members who have fled the country for Thailand have provided evidence of Cambodian military vehicles stationed near their homes in Bangkok, increasing fear among asylum seekers that they could be extradited.
Last week Defence Minister Tea Banh met with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok and “agreed to exchange foreign fugitives” so as to prevent either country from becoming a base for “riot and conflict incitement”, according to a Thai government statement.
Bangkok is seen as the first site of refuge for political and civil society figures escaping a crackdown in the Kingdom, but international rights groups have raised concerns over a potential increase in deportations, especially following the forced return of Kampong Speu resident Sam Sokha.
Facing arrest after throwing a shoe at a CPP billboard, Sokha fled to Thailand, where she received United Nations recognition as a refugee but was extradited to Cambodia in February. She is now serving a two-year prison sentence.
Mao Vibol, a former CNRP exile from Svay Rieng province residing in Bangkok, said that he started to notice a vehicle with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces plates over the last two weeks.
Photos provided to The Post show a white vehicle with the distinctive red and blue number plates used by military vehicles in Cambodia on a street that appears to be in Bangkok. He said the vehicle followed opposition members living with him, even during innocuous shopping trips.
“They observe us. They park the car near the garden when we do exercise and they even observe us at the market,” he said.
He added that he had moved apartments in Bangkok and that others had decided to leave the city.
Another ex-CNRP official, who requested anonymity because he is currently in Phnom Penh on a short visit, said he saw a similar vehicle with RCAF plates earlier this month in Bangkok, with officers appearing to monitor his activities by taking photos and videos of his movements. “Even if I go to submit the document at the UN office, they take my photograph,” he said.
He speculated the agreement between the two countries was intended to make their safety in Thailand as uncertain as if they had remained in the Kingdom.
“This is targeted on the opposition party. Why they did not do this before that? Why only after the opposition party was dissolved did they agree to this arrangement?” he asked.
Such an agreement has not been confirmed by Cambodian officials, with Defence Ministry spokesman Chum Socheat and CPP representative Sok Eysan unavailable for comment.
RCAF spokesman Mao Phalla denied that its vehicles were being used to monitor former CNRP members in Thailand, saying that army vehicles would only travel to the Thai capital for official meetings to discuss transnational crime.
The Thai announcement of a potential deal between the two neighbours to exchange fugitives also sparked concerns among right groups.
In a short statement, the Thailand-based Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network said the return of any individuals to Cambodia was incumbent on “the non-derogable principle of non-refoulement”, which forbids retuning someone to a country where their “life and liberty may be in danger”.
Simon Walker, Cambodia representative of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that while Thailand had not signed the UN’s Refugee Convention, there were strong arguments to be made that other international laws prevent the forcible deportation of refugees.
“Any case of a possible extradition should be subject to an individual assessment of the person’s situation. That assessment should take into account the risks that person might face in being extradited,” he said.