Did the Cambodian army train red shirts to stage attacks against the Thai government?
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Did the Cambodian army train red shirts to stage attacks against the Thai government?

First, some background. MCOT reports that on October 4 that 11 red shirts had been detained in Chiang Mai:

The Thai authorities have detained 11 men suspected of involvement in a movement to overthrow Thailand’s revered monarchy and planning the assassination of the country’s key public figures, a senior police officer said on Monday.

Provincial Police Region 5 designated commander Pol Maj Gen Chaiya Siriamphankul said the 11 were arrested in a resort in Chiang Mai’s Mae On district and they are well-trained in using firearms.

The detainees are linked with a movement to destroy national security and planned to kill the country’s very important persons as well as overthrow the monarchy, said Gen Chaiya,

In addition, Thai Rath reports (October 5) that the reds were detained on October 2, the police stated that a 20 million bounty had been placed on Newin, Suthep, and Abhisit. Also, an appointed Senator Somchai S (นายสมชาย แสวงการ) stated that the 11 reds had been in an army camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. A senior police officer (พล.ต.ต.ชัยยะ ศิริอำพันธ์กุล รรท. ผบช.ภ.5) stated that  the police had received a tip-off from a good citizen who found one of the men and noticed he not from the area. He said that they had not been arrested, but were only being detained and all 11 were willing to act as witnesses. He also said that they had in their possession government equipment (มีอุปกรณ์เครื่องมือที่…บางอย่างเป็นของรัฐ). The Chiang Mai Chief Police chief (พล.ต.ต.สมหมาย กองวิสัยสุข ผบก.ภ.จ.เชียงใหม่) stated that they received a phone call from the resort from a good citizen that the 11 men were refusing to pay their bills. He said that upon searching the resort they found no weapons or evidence that it had been used as a training ground, but that they have been cooperative witnesses.

Things were mostly quiet for the next few days until a DSI press conference on October 11. MCOT on what Pol-Lt Col Payao Thongsen, from DSI, said:

Col Payao affirmed Monday the suspects confessed to being members of the anti-government movement, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and that they were 11 among the 39 men who were recruited and taken by Red Shirt leaders to Cambodia for arms training.

…according to Col Payao, adding all of them entered Cambodian territory without passing legal immigration processes.

Gen Payao elaborated that the eleven said their three-week training was held in a Cambodian army camp and they were trained by Cambodian soldiers.
/>Col Payao said the arrest of the 11 men occurred as one of them, Kittichai Chansawas, escaped from the group as he was unwilling to continue in the operation anymore. Mr Kittichai sought help from local residents and then reported the matter to police.

BP: You will notice a change in the story on how they came to the attention of the authorities, first it was they were not paying their bills and were reported by a good citizen, to one of them escaped and sought help.

The Nation:

The 11 men testified that they and 28 other men went to Siem Reap to receive training for three weeks and 35 of them returned to Thailand on August 16.

Payao said the 11 men testified that during the first week of training, the trainers showed them movies about the Royal Family to instill hatred on them.

They learned how to use various kinds of weapon during the second week and receive field training of the weapon and bomb usage during the last week.

Payao said two red-shirt leaders in Chiang Mai, Kanya Phakmaneechan and Phetchawat Watanapongsirikul, coordinated for the 39 men to receive the training.

In addition, BangkokBizNews quotes Payao as stating that they were trained in using M16s, M79 grenades, RPGs, TNT, C4 etc. Then, in the final week, they used real bullets and real bombs.  He also stated that they had received a special chip, the size of a SIM card, and in it was their special ID which they used instead of their own name, and that they were trained by Cambodian soldiers in using it. He also said that DSI would make a report for the Ministry of Justice who could coordinate with the Foreign Ministry because of the interference by Cambodia in Thailand’s internal security as Cambodia has allowed its territory to be used for weapons training against the government administration (ในส่วนของดีเอสไอจะทำรายงานถึงกระทรวงยุติธรรมเพื่อประสานไปยังกระทรวงการต่างประเทศ เกี่ยวกับการแทรกแซงความมั่นคงของประเทศไทย จากกรณีประเทศกัมพูชาที่ให้พื้นที่ฝึกอาวุธเพื่อต่อต้านการบริหารงานของรัฐบาล).

BP: Serious stuff. While The Nation ran this as a breaking news story on October 11(as per story above) just after the press conference, they didn’t run a single story on October 12 (referring to print edition). Zilch, nothing, nada. For the Bangkok Post, there was a story on page three only. This comes after the accusation that the Cambodian army in a Cambodian army base brainwashed the red shirts in hating the monarchy, providing them with weapons training and that there would be a report prepared for the Foreign Ministry to protect against this. Surely this should have been a big story……..

The Cambodian response as per the Phnom Penh Post

Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong called the accusations “completely untrue”. “Cambodia totally rejects these allegations,” he said, and added that the Kingdom was in no position to provide material or financial support to the Red Shirt movement.

Another denial courtesy of DPA:

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan denied the allegations.

‘It’s made up. Our constitution does not allow anyone to do that sort of thing [on Cambodian soil],’ Phay Siphan said. ‘Nobody is allowed to do any such stupid thing in Cambodia.’
/>‘So I think this accusation is a made-up story to blame Cambodia, and is also [part of the] campaign against the red shirts, using Cambodia as a springboard for Thai local politics,’ he said.

‘It is a nonsense for Cambodia to foster [trouble] with anyone,’ he said.

BP: So at this point, the Thai government is in difficult position because of the DSI press conference. It does not want to antagonize Cambodia with accusations that the reds were being trained by Cambodian soldiers at Cambodian army camps (one could say this is to maintain good relations (ie to cover up the truth) or to ensure that people do not go digging given the specificity of the allegations), but it also does not want to refute the DSI story.  So the government tried to find a position in between. Global Post has a response from government spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks:

We’re not saying the Cambodian government acknowledges or supports such activities,” Buranaj said. “It’s well known that, in many of their border areas, there are military encampments controlled by rogue forces not under the government’s direct control.”


Payao’s boss, DSI chief Tharit Pengdit, qualified the allegations on Tuesday, saying they were based on witness statements and needed to be verified.

“This is a sensitive issue involving our neighbor. We have to be especially careful,” he said. “The legal process will continue, but we’ll not give any more information. What has been said was by an officer at the operational level.”

Then, Abhisit’s close aide Panitan in the Bangkok Post:

Mr Panitan said the DSI’s reports of a training camp in Cambodia were based on preliminary information, but an investigation was under way to look into the travel records of those alleged to have trained there.

On the likelihood of there being training camps in Cambodia without Cambodia’s knowledge, ABC (Australia) spoke to academic and Cambodia expert David Chandler. Key excerpts (Lopresti is the interviewer):

LOPRESTI: David Chandler, Hun Sen denies that Cambodia would allow foreigners to setup training camps on its territory. Could it be occurring without his knowledge?

CHANDLER: Well it might be but I doubt it, I doubt if anything like this could happen without the knowledge of the government. And I don’t think it did happen, I sort of tend to agree with the Cambodian spokesman that you quoted earlier. But it’s a mysterious thing because obviously I think there were people who confessed to this happening, now under what circumstances they confessed of course remains to be seen
/>LOPRESTI: Well Cambodia has lodged an official complaint and it says Thailand is trying to deflect public opinion from its own internal and political social problems, and that’s what this is all about. Do you think that’s a possibility?

CHANDLER: I think it’s a good possibility, but I mean I think we just have to be careful about who these 11 people have spoken to, if they have gone to Cambodia, they wouldn’t be official, I don’t think it would be Cambodian officials, but you never know, that border’s pretty porous, I think a lot of those Red Shirts fled into Cambodia to avoid arrest after those demonstrations last year. Some of the Red Shirts people are pretty dedicated to overthrow the Thai government, so you just can’t tell what happened. But I don’t think they got official Cambodian backing, and I think again the whole thing does seem from a Cambodian point of view, just from the point of view down here, it’s very unprofessional on the part of the Thais.

The Bangkok Post quotes the commander of the 2nd Army Region Lt Gen Thawatchai:

Lt Gen Thawatchai called the DSI “tactless” for making public information it had received after arresting 11 men at a resort in Chiang Mai 12 days ago. It had only upset Phnom Penh and complicated bilateral ties in the absence of substantive evidence.

“The best way to approach an issue which could lead to friction is not to mention other countries,” he said.

Lt Gen Thawatchai said he doubted the training took place in Cambodia. The DSI had not asked the 2nd Army Region, which oversees the Cambodian border, for information.

BP: Thawatchai is Army Chief’s Prayuth’s classmate and was just appointed to the position (in case you were wondering if he was some Thaksin plant). So is he denying this just because he doesn’t want to effect relations with Cambodia, but then if that is the position then you the government can’t push the rest of the story. The chief accusation is that they were trained in Cambodia and if they were not then the whole story falls down.

The Bangkok Post then sent a reporter to Siem Reap to investigate. Key excerpts from the article:

In Siem Reap, locals are aware of the reports that have rattled relations between the two countries following the claims by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).

But proof that a secret red shirt squad used the Cambodian city of Siem Reap as a training base is thin on the ground.
/>At the Angkor Hotel, where the DSI alleges some of the 11 red shirts now under detention had stayed, staff said they had not checked in a group of Thai men in the past four or five months.

Staff members said Thai visitors usually stayed at other hotels; when they did stay at the Angkor, it was usually in a big tour group.
/>Not far from the hotel, about one kilometre to the northeast, is another hotel popular with Thai tourists, and allegedly with red shirts, called the City Angkor Hotel.

A tuk-tuk driver who parks near the hotel said he and other drivers had heard of red shirts, including some leaders, staying there. They also claimed that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had stayed at the hotel.

However, they could shed no light on whether red shirts had stayed there while undertaking weapons training.

A senior hotel staff member said he had heard about the detained red shirts, but said he knew nothing more and declined to comment further. But he did say that Thaksin stayed at the hotel ”some time ago”.

A DSI investigator who took part in the interrogation of the 11 detainees alleged that they told investigators they had splintered into smaller groups after leaving Thailand. Some said they stayed at a hotel which they simply identified as ”Angkor”.

The investigator _ who asked to remain anonymous _ said he could not confirm the exact location of the hotel or the alleged weapons training camp. He said the detainees only referred to distances and directions.

BP: So they could have stayed at the second hotel, but as noted by Chandler above, it seems unlikely that they received weapons training in Cambodia without the knowledge of the Cambodian government. So what likely happened? It is certainly possibly that they fled to Cambodia after May 19, but aside from there is little external evidence pointing to anything else. We actually don’t know what the 11 have said to DSI as we only have DSI’s word to go on. They do not appear to have a lawyer or have been visited by an NGO/NHRC so we have no confirmation of another source that they have even confessed.

On one hand, the authorities claim they were rehearsing an assassination attempt on Suthep’s motorcade, but on the other, the authorities say no weapons were found and they were at a resort. Hardly the ideal place for rehearsing an attempt at a likely attempt on a motorcade which would be in an urban area. 

Also, the story on how they came to the attention of the authorities is inconsistent (see above).

Will this story be buried now? It is hard to see how the Thai authorities can maintain their line that the reds were trained in Cambodian army camps by Cambodian army soldiers without the knowledge of the Cambodian government.