Thai police have arrested five men for transporting mortar tubes and rounds, which the suspects say they smuggled from Cambodia and were reportedly taking to Myanmar, marking the second guns trafficking case linked to the Kingdom in less than two months.
The Thai nationals, travelling in two vans and a sedan, were stopped just after midnight on Tuesday at a petrol station in Sa Kaeo’s Muang district, with police seizing two 82mm and one 81mm tube, three 82mm mortar rounds, three ignition devices and six mobile phones.
They told police, who were tipped off about the haul, that the weapons were taken from Cambodia through a border crossing in the Thai area of Thap Prik in Aranyaprathet district, which is adjacent to Malai district in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province. They said they were heading to the Thai-Myanmar border, according to Thai press reports. While there was no indication of who the recipients in Myanmar would be, multiple separatist groups are still waging war in the country.
Chhit Ly, chief of Cambodia’s Border Police Unit 815, which is based in Malai, said authorities in the area were investigating the case and were in contact with their Thai counterparts. He said Thai investigators passed along two names – “Chhun and Choy” – as the people identified as the weapon sellers by the suspects, who said they crossed the border in Sangke village.
“From the answers given by our Thai counterparts, we could not find the names which were linked, so we cannot conclude where [the weapons] were brought from,” Ly said, adding officers were also unable to find the crossing mentioned by suspects.
“We searched for it but we did not find the track. It rained heavily, so we could not find it,” he said, adding local border crossings had been closed in recent weeks by the Interior Ministry, which is investigating another case of arms smuggling involving one of its own officials.
However, a border police official with knowledge of the area, who requested anonymity, said there was a crossing from a district military base in Boeung Beng commune.
A military link to the weapons was reported yesterday by local pro-government news outlet Fresh News, which quoted an anonymous official from the armed forces saying the arms had been taken from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Region 5, which comprises Battambang, Pursat, Pailin and Banteay Meanchey.
However military officials disputed the weapons were from RCAF’s arsenal.
Reached yesterday, the head of the military base in Boeung Beng, who declined to give his name, said he had no knowledge of the case.
Brigadier General Ek Sam Oun, the chief of logistics for Region 5, said he had checked the weapons lists and none were missing. “I checked since yesterday and even now there is no unit that lost [any weapons],” he said, adding his team was meeting regularly with Thai police to discuss the case.
The recent case follows the arrest of Cambodian immigration officer Leang Piseth in Thailand on June 3 in another case of weapons smuggling that came to light after a car carrying AK-47s and machine guns crashed in Thailand’s Trat province, near the border with Cambodia. Piseth, who has been charged with possessing illegal weapons, is alleged to have smuggled the cache through a crossing in Koh Kong province and the Interior Ministry has vowed to investigate.
On Monday, General Chao Phirun, director general of the Defence Ministry’s Technical Material Department, had said the weapons in that case were not from RCAF stocks.
Reached yesterday, Phirun said his team had already checked weapons at bases in the area to ensure those found in the most recent case were not from the military, though he added that he was waiting for some to be returned for inventorying.
“We are continuing to check on this because small units, when we checked the weapons, were still on a mission,” he said, adding that the military was not involved in any weapons smuggling. “We are not linked to that,” he said.
The suspects arrested in Thailand – identified as Pana Chaikong, Boontham Chaichana, Komsan Kitthavornarcheep, Uthai Chaichana and Meechai Klanprasom – are expected to be charged with possession of non-registrable guns and ammunition, and carrying weapons on public roads.
Additional reporting Bangkok Post