Dec 31, 2010
Source: Bangkok Post
Phnom Penh is refusing to release seven Thais being held for trespassing on Cambodian territory despite Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva demanding they be granted their freedom.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday afternoon made an urgent visit to Phnom Penh for talks with his counterpart, Hor Namhong, on securing the release of the seven who include a government MP.
But Phnom Penh Municipal Court decided yesterday to press ahead with charges against the Thais.
The defendants, including Democrat Party MP for Bangkok Panich Vikitsreth, appeared at a closed-door hearing at the court, a day after being detained near the border dividing Thailand and Cambodia.
"The court has charged them with illegally crossing the border ... and entering a military area with ill will," deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said.
If convicted on the two counts, the seven could face up to 18 months in jail. It was unclear when the next hearing in the case would be held.
A sombre Panich and the rest of his entourage were taken from the court by police officers.
Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said they were taken to Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of the capital.
The incident has rekindled diplomatic tensions between the neighbouring countries which centre on a long-standing border dispute.
Mr Abhisit said yesterday morning he had demanded the immediate release of the seven Thais and said they must not be taken to court in Cambodia as this could hurt the ties between the two countries after they were beginning to show signs of improvement.
"No matter where they were arrested, we think the seven persons should be released immediately," Mr Abhisit said.
"The two governments had held talks and agreed that if such incidents did occur, no arrests would be made and nobody would be taken to court," the prime minister said.
"Otherwise, this would only further complicate the border problems."
Hor Namhong told reporters after his meeting with Mr Kasit that he had said there would be "no release" of the Thais just yet.
"Let the court continue with the legal procedure as normal ... the government cannot do anything," he said.
The seven Thais were arrested about 10am on Wednesday near Ban Nong Jarn in Sa Kaeo's Khok Sung district while inspecting a disputed border area.
Arrested with Mr Panich were People's Alliance for Democracy co-leader Veera Somkwamkid, PAD activist Samdin Lertbutr, Tainae Mungmajon and three others identified only as Muay, Uan and Sab.
The PAD is a pressure group which led protests against Cambodia over the ownership of the Preah Vihear temple on the disputed border.
Assistant to the foreign minister Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said yesterday Thailand asked Cambodia to consider the case prudently as the seven Thais had no intention of encroaching on Cambodian territory.
Mr Chavanond said the two foreign ministers had examined evidence as well as the area where the Thais were arrested.
It was found the seven Thais had strayed about 1,200 metres into Cambodian territory. It was clearly marked as a Cambodian area, he said
"Foreign Minister Kasit made a visit to the seven Thais in prison," said Mr Chavanond, who accompanied Mr Kasit on the visit to Phnom Penh.
More than 100 Thais gathered yesterday at Thao Suranari Monument in Nakhon Ratchasima to protest against Cambodia's detention of the seven Thais.
They burned an effigy of Hun Sen and demanded Cambodia release the Thais immediately.
Mr Abhisit said he had instructed Mr Panich to inspect the disputed area in Ban Nong Jarn after local people had complained of Cambodian troops encroaching on their farmland.
An army source said some among the military top brass were unhappy with the incident.
Senior officers questioned whether the seven had intentionally strayed into Cambodian territory.
They also said the seven should have asked border police or soldiers to accompany them while inspecting the disputed area.