Banteay Meanchey police have arrested three men, including a deminer from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), for their alleged involvement in selling three mortars seized last week by Thai authorities, who, in a separate raid in Thailand near the country’s border with Myanmar, detained the alleged ringleader of the smuggling operation.
The arrests, all made on Friday, came after Thai police on Tuesday caught five Thai men in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province allegedly transporting two 82mm and one 81mm mortar tubes, along with three 82mm mortar rounds, which the suspects told investigators were bought from Cambodia.
The deputy chief of Banteay Meanchey police, Sith Los, said the trio were arrested in Battambang province on Friday and would be held as police continued their investigation into the case.
He named the suspects as CMAC staffer Uk Vireak, 48, of Battambang town’s O’Char commune; farmer Chim Lin, 36, of Sampov Loun district’s Serei Meanchey commune; and labourer Yim Savy, 38, of Phnom Proek district’s Bour commune.
“Uk Vireak is the owner of the weapons; he sold the weapons to Lin, and Lin sold them further to Thai people, while Savy was the one who transported them to Thailand,” Los said.
“I cannot discuss how we tracked down these guys because it is our method. Chim Lin is a mango and corn farmer, Uk Vireak is a CMAC staff member based in O Char commune, Battambang province. Yim Savy is a worker in a cassava farm.”
Asked whether the weaponry was found by Vireak in the process of carrying out his duties as a deminer, Los said “yes”, but then declined to give further information.
Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police Chief At Khem was quoted in local newspaper Kampuchea Thmey as saying the men had arranged two previous shipments of weapons to Thailand, each comprising 10 AK-47 rifles.
However, reached yesterday afternoon, Khem declined to comment and hung up on a reporter.
CMAC Director-General Heng Ratana said yesterday that the body was investigating the background of Vireak, saying that the organisation had a record of his name and photo on file as a regular deminer, though he claimed he was based in Kampong Cham province.
“We are verifying to see if it’s him,” he said, before commenting on the suggestion that the smuggled weapons were recovered ordnance.
“In our policy, not all weapons found have to be destroyed. They can be sent and stored somewhere. But his level has nothing to do with such decision making.”
Meanwhile, in Thailand, police on Friday arrested a man suspected of being behind the smuggling operation in Mae Hong Son province’s Khun Yuam district, which borders Myanmar in northern Thailand.
According to Thai Deputy National Police Chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, the man arrested, Patchara Jaitiang, was identified by the five men detained on Tuesday as the person who ordered the weapons be smuggled into the country.
Jaitiang has denied involvement. Srivara said Thai police had evidence that the suspect had ordered the smugglers to bring weapons after having success importing a previous shipment.
The Thai police did not state the intended final destination of the weapons.
Los, the Banteay Meanchey police deputy, said the weapons crossed into Thailand’s Aranyaprethet district through Sangke village in Boeung Beng commune, in Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district.
A border police official with knowledge of the area said the only border crossing in the village was through a district military base but said the mortars could also have been taken through the forest.
The case is the second instance of alleged weapons smuggling from Cambodia in less than two months.
On June 3, Cambodian immigration officer Leang Piseth was arrested in Thailand’s Trat province after a cache of AK-47s, machine guns, ammunition and grenades was discovered in the crashed car of a Thai air force officer.
Vowing an investigation, Interior Minister Sar Kheng last month said the weapons were smuggled across the border from Cambodia’s Koh Kong province, though ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday said he had received no updates about the probe.
Additional reporting by The Bangkok Post