Bangkok: Cambodia on Tuesday strongly denied allegations in Thailand that members of the anti-government Red Shirt movement were trained in Cambodian territory to assassinate top Thai leaders, including the Prime Minister.
A senior Thai security official alleged on Monday that 11 men who were arrested last week in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai were among 39 given ideological and combat training in a "neighbouring country”.
Lt Col Payao Thongsen, a senior investigator for the Department of Special Investigation, did not name the country when he made the allegation at a news conference. But he described the routes the men allegedly took to their training ground, which led to Cambodian border crossings.
Cambodia denied the accusation.
"Why would we need to do this? Cambodia would receive absolutely no benefit from training these people," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Tuesday. "Cambodia strongly rejects these allegations."
Cambodia`s relations with Thailand have been contentious for years, with the focus mostly on a border dispute.
The Thai allegations also raise the stakes domestically in an increasingly convoluted political battle that began in 2006, when elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup for alleged corruption and disrespect toward Thailand`s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The coup, which was touted as a way to restore stability after months of anti-Thaksin demonstrations that had all but paralyzed his administration, instead polarised the country, with Thaksin`s opponents and supporters both protesting in the streets ever since.
The Red Shirts include many Thaksin supporters as well as activists opposed to military interference in politics.
Two months of protests earlier this year by the Red Shirts — formally called the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD — demanding early elections degenerated into violence. About 90 people were killed in clashes before the army cleared the streets of demonstrators on May 19. Most top Red Shirt leaders have been detained on terrorism charges.
Dozens of bombings widely thought to be linked to the political strife have also plagued Bangkok this year.
Payao said the 39 alleged trainees were part of a conspiracy to topple Thailand`s monarchy, an allegation that his agency — the equivalent of the FBI in the United States — has made in the past against Red Shirts and their sympathizers.
"During the training, they were taught by the Thai UDD members who were in the neighbouring country about political beliefs and more importantly about hatred toward the institution," he said in an interview with the government-owned MCOT television network.
"The institution" is a common euphemism for the monarchy, which until recent years has been held in almost universal high regard. However, some Red Shirts and social critics perceive that some palace circles were involved in the coup.
A report on MCOT`s Web site said that Payao asserted that the alleged terrorists` three weeks of training "was held in a Cambodian army camp and they were trained by Cambodian soldiers”. The website of several Thai newspapers cited him making the same assertion.
Payao said the men were "trained to know almost every kind of weapon”, including assault rifles and grenade launchers, and were also shown the use of C4 plastic explosive.
He did not explain why Cambodia would be involved in such a conspiracy.
The two nations have had small, sometimes deadly, skirmishes over the demarcation of their border near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple. Relations worsened last year, with both countries withdrawing ambassadors, after Cambodian leader Hun Sen made Thaksin an official adviser and hosted him like a VIP. Thaksin recently resigned that position, and both countries restored their ambassadors.
MCOT reported that Payao said the alleged assassination targets included Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, recently resigned Deputy Prime Minster Suthep Thaugsuban, influential politician Newin Chidchob and a senior police officer.
Payao displayed what he said was evidence of the plot, including maps and photos. None of the 11 men arrested in Chiang Mai have been produced for the press to give their side of the story.
MCOT reported that Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader and member of Parliament, denied that his movement was part of any assassination plot.