Thai soldiers accused of ‘burning alive’ 2 Cambodians amid border tensions

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 13, 2015

Thailand’s military has denied killing two Cambodians citizens by “burning them alive” after they allegedly crossed the border into Thailand illegally last week, following accusations by Cambodian authorities quoted by The Phnom Penh Post:

Cambodian officers said their Thai counterparts informed them that on the night of January 7, four Cambodians illegally crossed the border with intentions of evading taxes on a smuggled motorbike.

“While they were dragging [the motorcycle] across the border, the soldiers shot at them, firing about 10 bullets. But all of the bullets missed so they deployed more soldiers and arrested two Cambodians while the other two escaped. The soldiers then burnt the two men alive in car tires,” said Anh Kamal, deputy military commander in Battambang’s Sampov Loun district.

Since the incident, Cambodian military and police have reported being denied access to the site of the killings. Cellphone photos posted by locals claiming to have seen the spot show two ash-covered indentations side by side.

The charred remains were sent to Bangkok for a biopsy to confirm identities, authorities said. Thailand has not yet officially confirmed the nationality of the deceased men. Its Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached.

Thais ‘admit’ to burn deaths“, Phnom Penh Post, January 12, 2015

The article went on to report that a man claiming to be the brother of one of the missing men, saying that they are migrant workers, suspects that his relatives are among the deceased. Furthermore, officials from the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok are working with Thai authorities to identify the bodies, according to an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh, warning that they will “file a complaint” should the remains be indeed from Cambodian citizens.

Meanwhile, Thai officials have denied these allegations in the Bangkok Post:

“We beg the Cambodian side not to speak like this. Making such comments (causes) damage because (Thai-Cambodian) relations, at present, are going well,” said a highly placed source in the Burapha Force, which supervises the Thai-Cambodian border. “Use reason and talk. Don’t make allegation and then give such information.

Army denies Thai soliders [sic] confessed to burning 2 Cambodians alive“, Bangkok Post, January 12, 2015

The border region between Cambodia and Thailand remains a source of tensions for both countries. It is also the scene of the Thai-Cambodian border dispute over the ancient Hindu temple Preah Vihear – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008 – which sparked sporadic exchanges of fire between both armies, but deteriorated into several days of fighting in 2011 when at least eight people were killed. In November 2013, the International Courts of Justice upheld a ruling originally made in 1962, awarding Cambodia the sovereignty of the Preach Vihear promontory.

Apart from that, other numerous incidents have resulted in deadly gunfire as well as alleged cases of illegal border crossings, as they involve land encroachment and illegal logging and smuggling of rosewood. The Cambodian human rights organization ADHOC says that 33 Cambodian illegal loggers were killed in 2013 and 45 in 2012 (source). The Cambodian Ministry of Interior on the other hand claims that 69 Cambodians were killed crossing the border illegally in 2013. Thai authorities regularly deny opening fire on illegal border-crossers. The most recent incident last December involved Thai soldiers reportedly shooting on five Cambodian women crossing into Thai territory, killing one.

UPDATE (January 19, 2015): The Phnom Penh Post reported over the weekend that Thai Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn told his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong that the Thai authorities still haven’t identified the bodies, thus acknowledging the incident officially for the first time.