During a military ceremony on Sunday, Thailand publicly requested that Cambodia repatriate a student activist wanted on charges of offending the monarchy.
“Red Shirt” member Ekkapob Luara, also known as Tang Acheewa, is seeking political asylum in Cambodia after Thailand’s ruling junta put out an arrest warrant for him in June, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political analyst and acquaintance of Ekkapob’s wrote in the Japan Times earlier this month.
Cambodia, however, denied any knowledge of the fugitive, who Pavin attested was chased by Thai spies during a stay in Sihanoukville.
“We have not received any official extradition request from Thailand,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong. “I do not know if Mr Ekkapob is even in Cambodia at the moment.”
For years, Thai fugitives and members of the red-shirt movement have sought refuge in Cambodia in order to avoid strict – and often politically motivated – lese majeste charges, including exiled activist and long-time Phnom Penh resident Jakrapob Penkair.
Cambodia and Thailand have signed an extradition treaty, but it has not been observed religiously. Cambodia previously refused an extradition request for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on the grounds that the charges were politically motivated.
“Thailand’s request for Ekkapob Luara’s extradition back to Thailand is Prayuth’s test to Hun Sen to formally ascertain whether Hun Sen’s apparent words of friendship … have any substance,” said Paul Chambers, a political analyst and director of research at the Chiang Mai-based Institute of South East Asian Affairs.
However, if Ekkapob has indeed applied for asylum, a claim the Ministry of Interior refused to confirm yesterday, then repatriating him would constitute a violation of international laws.
“Cambodia has ratified the UN refugee convention and under no circumstances should it be involved in refouling a person back to their country of origin if there is a possibility that they could face persecution for their political views,” said Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch Asia.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THE BANGKOK POST