Defense Ministry Investigating Thais’ Weapons Smuggling Claim

The Defense Ministry is investigating an allegation by Thai authorities this week that weapons have been illegally smuggled across the border from Cambodia, according to a government spokesman.

“We are monitoring this issue and the Defense Ministry is working on this issue,” said Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers.

Defense Minister Tea Banh attends an annual meeting at the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ high command headquarters in Phnom Penh in January. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

He referred questions to the Defense Ministry, whose spokesman could not be reached.

Reports in Thai media have claimed that an arms cache found in a vehicle on Saturday was connected to Defense Minister Tea Banh.

The ministry on Tuesday called on media outlets to retract the claims and issue corrections and apologies, insisting General Banh had no involvement with illegal weapons trafficking, The Bangkok Post reported.

Gen. Banh could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The allegations arose following the arrests of Lean Pisith, a Cambodian police officer working in the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, Thai air force officer Pakhin Detphong and another Thai national in Thailand’s Trat province on Saturday. Authorities found Mr. Detphong’s crashed pickup truck filled with dozens of guns and grenades, according to the Post.

Multiple immigration department officials could not be reached on Thursday.

The Post reported that an unidentified Cambodian man, driving a Cambodia-registered Toyota Land Cruiser, was stopped as he approached the scene of an accident after driving through several border checkpoints.

Mr. Pisith was named on Monday by Sovan Bunthoeun, director of the Cham Yeam International Checkpoint in Koh Kong province, who said Mr. Pisith was arrested while driving back to Cambodia.

On Thursday, Mr. Bunthoeun said he had no new information about the incident.

According to the Post, a Thai police spokesman said an investigation had found that Mr. Pisith’s vehicle “did not belong to a senior Cambodian official, despite the media reports.”

Thai police investigators said earlier this week that the confiscated weapons—29 AK-47 assault rifles, four 7.62mm machine guns and more than 4,000 bullets—were smuggled from Cambodia and intended to be sold to ethnic minorities in Burma, the Post reported.

A Thai police official said Mr. Detphong had admitted under questioning to buying the arms from an unidentified Cambodian.

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