THE Bangkok office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has managed to
arrange refuge in a third country for two Sam Rainsy Party activists who were arrested
in Thailand in December.
SRP treasurer Yim Sovann said yesterday that he just received word that activist
Sok Yoeun and the head of the party's Bangkok office, Sar Sophorn, will leave for
a third country - possibly Holland - as soon as they are freed from jail in June.
There is no chance of their returning to Cambodia.
In September last year Yoeun, a senior SRP activist from Battambang, was accused
of staging a rocket attack on Prime Minister Hun Sen's motorcade in Siem Reap after
the election the previous year. Two other SRP activists, Kang Bun Heang and Mong
Davuth, were arrested under the same charges, but Yoeun managed to escape to Thailand.
Heang and Davuth were later freed after six months in Phnom Penh's military prison,
due to lack of evidence.
Upon arrival in Bangkok, Yoeun was granted "concerned persons" status by
the UNHCR, but before refuge in a third country could be arranged, he was arrested
by Thai authorities.
Previously a dubious Cambodian living in Bangkok had forced Yoeun to make a video-taped
confession of his involvement in the rocket attack. The confession was shown on Thai
military TV at the same time as Yoeun's presence was brought up in the Thai parliament
as part of a power struggle between opposition leader General Chavalit Yongchaiyuth
and Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.
Sophorn was arrested simultaneously with Yoeun, charged with aiding an illegal immigrant,
and the Cambodian government demanded that Yoeun be extradited, so that he could
be prosecuted for his alleged involvement in the rocket attack.
However, immediately thereafter, a Thai court sentenced Yoeun to six months' imprisonment,
which postponed his extradition. On April 27, Sophorn was also given a six months
prison sentence. The sentences count from the day the suspects were arrested, so
both Yoeun and Sophorn are due to be freed in late June.
And the prison sentences may have worked in the activists' favor. While they have
been behind bars, the UNHCR has arranged for them to be brought to a third country,
and according to Sovann, the Cambodian government has not repeated its request for
"I don't think they will demand extradition. They had to release Kong Bun Heang
and Mong Davuth from prison and that shows clearly that there is no case against
any of them," Sovann said.
According to military court officials, investigations against Heang and Davuth are
still pending. Since their release in early April, the two have tried to raise money
to leave the country, as they fear for their safety.