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More suspects in Thailand arms smuggling case sought

Thai authorities inspect seized mortar tubes and ammunition smuggled from Cambodia last week. Photo supplied
Thai authorities inspect seized mortar tubes and ammunition smuggled from Cambodia last week. Photo supplied

More suspects in Thailand arms smuggling case sought

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Police are hunting four more suspects believed to be connected to a recent case of smuggling weapons to Thailand, with an official saying the group is accused of transporting the ordnance across the border.

The case emerged last Tuesday, when five Thai nationals were caught in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province allegedly transporting three mortar tubes and three mortar rounds.

Banteay Meanchey Deputy Provincial Police Chief Sith Los said the group of four, whom he said worked as labourers, had fled from their homes in Battambang province and a warrant for their arrest had been issued by the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court.

“They all escaped from Sampov Loun district; they all live there. Altogether, it’s four people,” Los said. “They helped transport the weapons at the border.”

The manhunt follows Friday’s arrest of three Cambodians also suspected of involvement in the smuggling.

The detained trio – identified by police as Ub Vireak, a 48-year-old staffer from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC); Chin Lin, a 36-year-old farmer; and Yim Savy, a 38-year-old labourer – faced court yesterday morning.

Vireak, however, was yesterday identified by CMAC Director General Heng Ratana as Ap Leng Cheu, a battle clearance team member – focusing on non-landmine weapons and munitions – who joined the organisation in 1997 and had been based in Banteay Meanchey until the start of this year, when he was rotated to Kampong Cham province.

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court Prosecutor Sok Keobandith said the three men were yet to be charged.

“We have not decided what to charge them with yet. I am questioning them. I don’t know when the questioning will end,” he said.

Police have alleged that Vireak, the CMAC worker, owned the weapons and sold them to 36-year-old farmer Lin, who arranged their sale to Thailand.

Los said police were yet to ascertain the price at which the weapons were sold, but said members of the alleged network had confessed to transporting two previous shipments of AK-47s to Thailand last year.

“In all there were 20 rifles, 10 each time,” he said.

Los previously said the mortars – two 82mm and one 81mm – were recovered by Vireak during his clearance duties with CMAC.

Ratana said he doubted that because of the apparent condition of the ordnance in pictures released by Thai police.

“Based on the pictures . . . of the weapons, they appear to be new weapons, and CMAC does not have that kind of new weapons. We just discover abandoned weapons or munitions. So normally they are rusted,” he said.

However, a source with detailed knowledge of weaponry used during Cambodia’s civil war said the mortars seized by Thai police looked “definitely old” and were in “generally poor condition”.

Ratana said his detained staff member had taken leave prior to his arrest and CMAC was investigating whether any more workers were involved.

“We are very closely working with the police, so we have already sent the investigation team to coordinate with the police and we hope that we will not have others,” he said.

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