Thursday, 6 January 2011

Cambodian court hears Thai border crossing case

Panich Vikitsreth (2nd left) on his way to court
Seven Thai civilians arrested in late December for illegally entering Cambodian land have appeared in the Phnom Penh Municipal court on Thursday 6th January.

One of the arrested, ruling party MP Panich Vikitsreth told the court that he entered the disputed border area unintentionally. Most of the group were members of the 'Yellow Shirts', a nationalist group who advocates Thailand taking a tougher stand on border issues with Cambodia.

Each of the seven was questioned individually, with Yellow Shirt activist Veera Somkwankid the last to be examined.

Lawyers defending the Thais were waiting for details of charges levied against each of them, and said they could not file bail requests requests until the court delivered its verdict.

Because 7th January is a holiday in Cambodia, it is expected that the lawyers will file requests for the release on bail of the group on Monday.

Panich's lawyer Ros Aun said that Mr Panich told the court he had “crossed into Cambodian territory unintentionally.”

Speaking to AFP, Ros said, "He said he came [to the border area] because Thai people claim it is their land. He said he was walking without knowing that he was entering Cambodian territory and was captured by the authorities."

Relatives of the defendants, reporters and Thai embassy officials were not allowed inside the courtroom.

The seven were charged late last month with illegally crossing the border and entering a military area with ill will. The issue had threatened to derail improved relations between the south-east Asian neighbours, and Thai calls for the groups' immediate release have been ignored.

The issue has proved tricky for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is known to be close to his MP, and it has been suggested that it was he who told the group to travel to the border area.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Bangkok might seek a royal pardon for the seven if the court sentences them. They face a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail if convicted on both accounts.

No trial date has been set.

For more information, see the original menas borders blog on this issue, of the menas borders website for more on the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.

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