Monday, 24 January 2011

Five Thais arrested for illegally entering Cambodia released

Panich Vikitsreth is released from jail on Friday 21st January

The ordeal undergone by five of the seven Thai citizens arrested in late December for intruding upon Cambodian territory has ended, as of Friday 21st January. The two others remain in custody, facing additional espionage charges.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced five citizens, including Panich Vikitsreth, a member of the Thai Parliament and ally of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, to eight months in prison for illegally crossing the border. Their sentences were suspended, however, and all five were immediately released, having already spent a month in prison.

They were also fined 1 million Cambodian riel (approximately US$330) each.

Two others remain in Cambodia. People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leader Veera Somkwamkid remains in custody in Phnom Penh on further espionage charges. There have been conflicting reports on his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon; some say she has been granted bail and told to remain in the country, while other reports say she remains in custody.

Panich told the court on Friday that they did not realise they were in a restricted area because all of the signs were in Cambodian. In a press conference on 24th January, after returning to Thailand, Panich reiterated his insistance that his trip to the disputed border region was done out of a 'sincere effort' to help local people overcome their troubles. He said he was in the region to investigate complaints from villages that they could not make use of the land they had long occupied and for which they had land rights documents.

Abhisit made a televised address on the evening of the 23rd to explain the border issue and to insist that the government will not bow to pressure from the PAD, along with their allies in the Thai Patriots Network and the Santi Asoke sect ahead of their planned joint rally this week.

The groups want the government to revoke the memorandum of understanding signed by Thailand and Cambodia in 2000 governing the two countries' border disputes as they feel it puts Thailand at a disadvantage. They also want the government to force Cambodians from every disputed area and to cancel Thailand's membership with UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

Sources: Bangkok Post, UPI

For more information on the Thailand-Cambodia border dispute, see the Menas Borders website, here.

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