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Thai Gov't Asks Cambodia To Verify Reports of Missing Activist

An activist pastes images of Thai dissident Wanchalearm Satsaksit on a wall near the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, June 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The Cambodian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it had received a diplomatic note from Thailand asking the former to verify news reports documenting the disappearance of a Thai pro-democracy activist. It was unclear if this was a request for a criminal investigation.

VOA Khmer reported on Friday eyewitness accounts from Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district of popular Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit being dragged into a black SUV by three unidentified men. The abduction was reported by Human Rights Watch in a statement released Friday morning.

Cambodian and Thai officials for more than four days ignored calls for an investigation into the incident, with the former requiring an official complaint from Thailand or Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s family.

Koy Kuong, a spokesperson at the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday that the ministry had received on Monday a diplomatic note from the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh. He said the note was dated June 05 and that the Thai Embassy had asked for verification of news reports about the missing activist.

“In the diplomatic note, the Thai embassy asked us to verify news of the missing Wanchalearm Satsaksit,” he said.

“We will verify the news first... because information can be falsified easily,” Koh Kuong said.

Koy Kuong said the ministry has informed the relevant authorities, including the Ministry of Interior and police officials, to look into the matter.

It was not immediately clear if this meant the police would open a criminal investigation into the missing activist.

Chhay Kimkhoeun, a spokesperson for the National Police, told government-affiliated Fresh News on Tuesday that the authorities will verify the news reports, especially CCTV video camera clips of the incident.

A staffer at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh answered the phone Tuesday morning, but said the embassy will not comment on the case, directing the queries to the Thai Foreign Ministry’s Department of Information in Bangkok.

The department did not respond to an email request for comment on Tuesday.

Eyewitness accounts conveyed to VOA Khmer reveal that Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted outside his apartment in the late afternoon of June 4. A black Toyota Highlander SUV pulled up next to the Thai activist, according to sources, who requested anonymity.

The witnesses said one unidentified man, dressed in black and wearing a mask, then punched Wanchalearm Satsaksit in the neck and dragged him to the car. Two other unidentified men were also part of the abduction, they said.

“Chuoy pong. Chuoy pong. Chuoy pong. Chuoy pong,” were the last words bystanders heard Wanchalearm shouting, which translates to “please help.”

On Tuesday, residents living near the apartment building where Wanchaleam Satsaksit lived said the police had come to the area to question some people.

A security guard near the building said people were aware of the incident, and that some wanted to help Wanchalearm Satsaksit but were scared because the abductors were armed.

He said the CCTV cameras in the area would have captured the incident and the direction the SUV went after Wanchalearm Satsaksit was put in the car.

“Only the police can check the CCTV camera,” said the security guard.

Wanchalearm Satsaksit fled the Thai junta after the 2014 coup and is a prominent activist affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the “Red Shirts,” according to a Human Rights Watch statement. He is wanted for alleged online crimes, the rights group said, and the Thai media report he is also charged with purportedly violating Thailand’s strict lese-majeste provision.

The activist is politically active on social media and has continued to publicly criticize Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, posting a video criticizing him on June 3, a day before he went missing.

The Bangkok Post reported on Friday that Krissana Pattanacharoen, the deputy national police spokesman in Thailand, said Thai police had contacted their Cambodian counterparts regarding the extradition of Wanchalearm Satsaksit and other exiled activists.