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Teenagers' slaying: high-risk of living on the border

Teenagers' slaying: high-risk of living on the border

THAIS should not be broadly condemned - but perpetrators punished - for the alleged

Jan 4 slayings by border guards of three Cambodian teenagers who crossed into Thailand

illegally, according to a child welfare group that is protecting a witness.

"The Thai military is absolutely not to blame for this act," said Benoit

Duchateau-Arminjon, director of Krousar Thmey (New Family). "They face a difficult

situation on the border and are fed-up with stopping the same people every day, but

the ones who did this have to be punished."

"We need the help of the Thai authorities to guarantee the safety of Cambodian

children who cross the border regularly," he added.

Five Cambodian boys, who ventured over from Poipet to scavenge for scrap metal and

other recyclables, were allegedly ambushed by a Thai border patrol as they wandered

back to Cambodia in the dead of night with a group of Khmer bandits.

One boy died instantly in the shooting while two others were executed, sources said.

These allegations were independently confirmed by the UN Center for Human Rights

(UNCHR).

Duchateau-Arminjon explained that the acute poverty of Poipet and other northwestern

border towns pushes youngsters to scavenge for profit on the relatively prosperous

Thai side.

As a result, many children have been taken into custody by Thai immigration police.

Their chances of repatriation will be jeopardized, and efforts by international and

non-governmental organizations to monitor the situation on the border blocked, if

cross-border links between Bangkok and Phnom Penh are cut, Duchateau-Arminjon noted.

"If you don't have close cooperation and coordination with Thai authorities,

then it will be even more difficult to release Cambodian children from Thai immigration

jails so that they can return home," he said.

At press time, Neap, the witness to the alleged act, was recovering from injuries

sustained in the shooting at an undisclosed location, and was not available for comment.

Krousar Thmey, nevertheless, released information compiled from interviews with various

sources.

According to notes taken by Krousar Thmey at Neap's testimony to UNCHR:

On Jan 3 at noon, the five boys - Tren, Sarain, Kmao, Rith, and Neap - made their

way to Thailand with empty sacks to collect scrap metal, bottles, and other refuse

for re-sale in Cambodia.

The boys us-ually scavenged in the afternoons and attempted the re-crossing to Poipet

under cover of dark before dawn.

On that Friday, as they settled to catch some sleep, the boys were approached by

four armed Khmer adults who persuaded the boys to stay with them.

At around 3:00am on Jan 4, the boys were woken by the grown-ups who eventually forced

them to steal a chicken and five ducks from a Thai village near the Cambodian border.

Separately, the adults stole a bicycle from a nearby house which they entrusted to

Sarain.

Then the nine attempted the crossing, the boys walking in front. According to the

Krousar Thmey notes, approximately 100 meters from Cambodia, without warning, four

or five Thai border guards - in full camouflage - opened fire on the Cambodians.

In the shooting, Neap was hit by four bullets, but Sarain, Kmao and Rith were more

badly wounded. The fifth boy, Tren, who was unhurt, huddled in a bush, then escaped

back to Poipet. He has not been heard from since.

Before escaping and leaving the bleeding children behind, the Khmer bandits allegedly

fired back at the Thais.

As soon as they vanished, the Thai unit approached the four remaining boys and interrogated

them.

When the boys replied that they were pushed into stealing, the border guards, apparently

rejecting their version, left them to pursue the bandits. In the meantime, Neap took

cover in a bush approximately 30 meters away.

Within ten minutes, the Thais returned. From his vantage, Neap allegedly saw the

soldiers finish-off Rith and Sarain at point-blank range. Kmao was already dead.

The soldiers then pulled back.

Neap spent the rest of the night huddling under a pile of bamboo. As he attempted

to cross into Cambodia in daylight, he ran into another group of soldiers who he

mistook for Cambodians.

Despite Neap's pleas that he was injured, the soldiers ordered him to wade across

a river and wait for them. As soon as he crossed the river, which snakes along the

border, he fled.

Neap eventually made it to the cement bridge marking the frontier between Thailand

and Cambodia. On the bridge were about 20 Thai and Cambodian soldiers numbering at

least 20.

According to the Krousar Thmey notes, a Thai officer, spotting Neap, remarked: "Maybe

this is the one who was fired upon last night."

The officer then ordered Neap be taken to hospital in Aranyaprathet, where he was

stitched and spent the night.

On Jan 5, ten Thai soldiers visited him at the ward, interrogating him in Khmer about

the events of Jan 4. Pressed on whether the Cambodian bandits carried weapons, Neap

said "yes".

Before being repatriated, at 2:00pm Neap was taken to the hospital's morgue where

he was asked to identify the bodies of his slain friends.

According to Krousar Thmey, on Jan 4 Sarain's 12-year old brother was sent by the

victims' families to the site of the incident as soon as Tren returned to Poipet.

In the wake of the alleged child killings, a UNCHR spokesman said he had received

independent confirmation about Neap's account from sources whose names he refused

to reveal.

Meanwhile, sources said that separate inquiries into the case were underway or were

about to begin on the Thai side.

"The Cambodian embassy has been informed about this incident and is carrying

out an investigation into it," Roland Eng, the Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand,

said by phone from Bangkok on Jan 17.

"A representative from our consular section will be going this weekend to the

site of the incident, and we are also awaiting a report from the joint border committee,"

said the ambassador.

A foreigner who lives in Aranyaprathet confirmed that casings of four AK-47 bullets

were recovered at the site of the shootings. This signified that the Khmer bandits

had fired at least four rounds at the Thais, he said.

It remained unclear, he noted, whether the Thai perpetrators were drawn from the

ranks of border patrols or local militia, who are fully dressed in black.

Also from Aranyaprathet, an official with the Thai-Cambodia Border Liaison Office

elaborated on the problems of illegal immigration and banditry that place the guardians

of Thailand's border with Cambodia at risk.

"The incident happened in Thakam district where Cambodian and Thai gangs rob

cars and motorcycles and then return to Cambodia," he said.

"Incidents happen every day in which bandits shoot at Thai military, Thai police,

and even Thai villagers."

"Normally, Thai military and police who are trying to stop suspects will warn

them before they shoot, but there is no guarantee that in uncontrollable situations

such as this no one will be killed."

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