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Three Weeks on, Cambodian Police Have no Leads on Missing Thai Pro-Democracy 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)
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 Police on Thursday said they have “no more new clues” as to the whereabouts of missing Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was abducted outside his apartment block, according to eyewitnesses.

The Thai activist, who fled to Cambodia after the 2014 coup in Thailand, and is part of the Red Shirts or pro-democracy United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. He went missing after being abducted by three masked and armed men on June 4, according to eyewitness accounts conveyed to VOA Khmer.

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kimkhoeun said the police had no new leads in the disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit. It has been more than two weeks since the Thai government sent a diplomatic note asking Cambodian authorities to investigate media reports of the missing activist.

“We studied the video clips and we didn’t know when and where it happened,” he said, referring to CCTV footage of the alleged abduction.

Asked if the investigation was ongoing, Chhay Kimkhoeun questioned the reporter’s query, eventually saying the investigation had not been closed.

“This is a sensitive question and I know who VOA Khmer is. We don't allow anyone to accuse Cambodia of this and that,” he said.

“So far we are not able to verify the news. We haven't stopped [the investigation],” he said.

In the past few weeks, the Cambodian Police have said the owner of the Mekong Gardens condominium, where Wanchalearm Satsaksit lived according to Human Rights Watch, had said the missing activist did not live in the building.

They also said that the Toyota Highlander that was used to abduct Wanchalearam Satsaksit was using fake vehicle registration plates and that the activist’s visa had expired in 2017 and his whereabouts were unknown since then.

VOA Khmer spoke to eyewitnesses on June 5, who said that Wanchalearm Satsaksit was abducted by three armed men and put into a black Toyota Highlander SUV on June 4. This happened outside his residence, Mekong Gardens, in Chroy Changvar district.

VOA Khmer spoke to a Cambodian woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said she had befriended the missing activist and had visited Mekong Gardens condominium to meet him on many occasions.

“He had lived at the condominium for a long time. I went to the condominium compound to meet him, and sat in the back near the river,” she said.

She said she knew Wanchalearm Satsaksit by his nickname Tar, he liked smoking cigarettes, drinking chocolate frappes, and was particular about plastic waste. She claimed that he had rented a small shop to sell raw papaya salads and meatballs, but did not run the business seriously.

She said he was critical of Thai Prime Minister “Prayut” Chan-o-cha and liked former Thai Prime Minister “Thaksin” Shinawatra. The woman had met Wanchalearm Satsaksit a few days before the abduction and was hesitant to comment about the incident.

“The little we know, the longer we live. Now, people don’t want to talk about that,” she added.

Thai Foreign Ministry officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong said the government had sent a note to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh on June 11, not detailing the contents of the letter, but that the Foreign Ministry had not heard back from their Thai counterparts.

“They have not requested anything else for us to do,” he said. “In the note, we told them that the police will continue to investigate.”

Wanchalearm Satsaksit fled the Thai junta after the 2014 coup and is wanted for alleged online crimes, according to Human Rights Watch group on its June 5 statement, and Thai media reports said he had also been charged for purportedly violating Thailand’s strict lese-majeste provision.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least eight pro-democracy activists from Thailand had been victims of “enforced disappearances” in recent months.