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
Duchateau-Arminjon explained that the acute poverty of Poipet and other northwestern
border towns pushes youngsters to scavenge for profit on the relatively prosperous
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."