Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Seven Cambodian Refugees Nabbed by Thai Police Await UNHCR Help

Thai authorities checking the documents of Cambodians who joined the Paris Peace Agreement training, where seven people were detained on December 29, 2023. (Supplied)
Thai authorities checking the documents of Cambodians who joined the Paris Peace Agreement training, where seven people were detained on December 29, 2023. (Supplied)

Thai authorities arrested 10 Cambodian refugees while attending the Paris Peace Agreement course in Bangkok on December 29, with seven of them being held at Suan Plu Immigration Detention Center while awaiting intervention by the UNHCR. Three others were released the next day.

On December 29, Srun Srorn and Pheng Sophea, known for their Paris Peace Agreement activism, conducted a training in Bangkok where some 40 participants attended. They include Cambodian workers in Thailand, activists of the now-defunct CNRP, Candlelight Party supporters, youths, and Khmer Krom refugees.

Around 11 a.m that day, local Thai police appeared at the training to check legal documents, like passports, as well as the information that was being shared. However, they arrested 10 people who held the ID cards provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Khem Mony Kosal, a Candlelight Party official who fled to Thailand and is a member of the Thai Refugee Coordinating Committee, told CamboJA that those arrested were taken to the immigration detention center but are safe as they wait for a resolution by the UNHCR in Thailand. The detainees possess temporary residency permits as refugees.

Morgane Roussel-Hemery, a representative of UNHCR, did not respond to questions via email in time for the publication as he is away until January 8.

The seven refugees detained by Thai authorities consist of So Meta, a Khmer Students Intelligent League Association member, and two of her relatives, and Sam Sokha, who once threw a shoe at billboard featuring a picture of former Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as social activists Thon Chantha, Ly Chhuon and Kim Thylery. 

Speaking to CamboJA, So Meta confirmed that 10 people were arrested on December 29, but three were released on December 30, after police checked their documents.

“I was arrested by the Thai authorities and they kept us for three nights and three days,” Meta said. “The authorities allowed us to talk on the phone for an hour a day from 7pm to 8pm.”

Meanwhile, Kosal believed that the reason behind their arrest was allegedly to find key Cambodian opposition political activists, as the Thai authorities sought for persons with the names Ly Meng, Khem Mony Kosal, Lim Sokha, Venerable Heng Kim Lay and Phorn Patna.

He alleged that these people are “considered by the Cambodian government” to be the “masterminds of the opposition”, allegedly collaborating with Thailand’s Move Forward Party and using Thai territory to rally against the Cambodian government. Kosal opined that the arrest was allegedly an opportunity for the Cambodian government to “persecute and arrest anti-government activists in Thailand”.

“The Move Forward Party has collaborated with the [Cambodian] opposition party in Thailand, with us as its organizers for the training course on December 2. At the time, we organized [the event] for our members only, comprising Candlelight Party [members] and children of [political] activists,” Kosal said. There were also speakers from the US, South Korea and Japan, but the Move Forward Party was not involved.

He also alleged that the arrest of the seven people was related to a “request by the Cambodian government”, although the Thai authorities have yet to send them back to Cambodia.

“When we arrived at the detention center to visit the detainees, the Thai police made it clear that the Cambodian government was the one who filed the complaint and asked for them to be sent back,” he said.

Recently, nine political parties, which are part of a coalition with the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), asked the Thai Prime Minister to monitor the activities of the Move Forward Party, claiming that the latter has supported and trained Cambodian opposition activists who are refugees in Thailand.

Cambodian government spokesman Pen Bona declined to comment.

Srun Srorn, a Paris Peace Agreement activist, charged that the training organized by his team was not illegal as it was meant to share information with workers in Thailand.

“The Thai authorities arrested the people not because we came to study the Paris Peace Agreement but because they accused them of creating an overseas movement to overthrow the Cambodian government and for possessing illegal passports,” he said.

His team was not detained and continued to train Cambodian workers in Thailand regarding the Paris Peace Agreement after the arrest, he mentioned, adding that the Thai police released the three people as they did not break any laws.

However, during his stay in Thailand for the training session in Samut Prakan province on December 31, he and his colleague Pheng Sophea were beaten by a group of men, suffering head injuries.

He related that the unknown people also pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot him, but shouts by the participants, the Cambodian workers, resulted in the men leaving the scene immediately.

“I don’t have any enemies, therefore I believe they [the attackers] intended to [only] intimidate me rather than physically attack me,” he said. “Based on the injuries, if they wanted to kill me, they could have but they didn’t as it happened in public.”

Leung Sophon, a central official based in Thailand, told CamboJA that he has not received any clear information about why the Thai police went to check the documents of the participants and detain them. According to him, they have to be careful when conducting or participating in these training sessions.

“Whatever we do, we are careful, because whether we are Thais or Cambodians, gatherings or meetings about politics are very sensitive [issues],” he said. “In some places, we meet without the permission of the owner or the venue is not right, so it is not appropriate for us to do that.”

Ex-premier Hun Sen has previously said he is “not afraid to arrest anyone, even in Thai territory”.

He also reminded that the Cambodian and Thai governments have signed a memorandum of understanding to repatriate prisoners, noting that Thai authorities had sent several political refugees back to Cambodia in the past.

Since the dissolution of the CNRP party in 2017, many of their activists have fled to Thailand due to political restrictions and persecutions by the Cambodian authorities.

The Cambodian embassy in Bangkok and Thailand embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to questions via email while Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak  and Keo Vannthan, spokesperson of the General Department of Immigration, could not be reached for comment.