20-Year Sentence for Thai Accused of Planting Landmines

The Military Court sentenced a Thai national to 20 years in prison on Friday for planting landmines in Cambodian territory in an attempt to kill soldiers along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Suphap Wongsa Prakna, 39, was arrested in February 2009 by Cambodian soldiers based along the border in Oddar Meanchey province after he was caught carrying an anti-personnel landmine.

Mr Suphap was detained in military prison for almost a year prior to his trial last week, charged with attempted murder with an explosive device, harming national security, and illegally entering Cambodia.

“This punishment is considered the minimum under Article 75” of the anti-terrorism law, Presiding Judge Pork Pan said.

“Crossing the border to plant mines in Cambodia has seriously violated the treaty,” he added, referring to the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines, to which Cambodia is a party.

Judge Pan said that the court had arrived at a sentence after taking into account Mr Suphap’s frank confession, his health problems, and his cooperation with the court.

The judge also cited as grounds for leniency Mr Suphap’s claim that Thai soldiers had hired him to plant landmines.

“The charged person was also cheated by Thai officials with money and promises to give him a job in the government,” Mr Pan said. “I give him one month to appeal against this decision.”

Mr Suphap alleged in court last week that senior Thai soldiers had paid him between $60 and $90 on two separate occasions in early 2009 to plant landmines in Cambodian territory in the hopes of killing Cambodian soldiers on border patrols.

The defendant’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said on Friday that his client has poor mental health and was hired by someone else to commit the crime.

“I think there could have been be some threats to him and his family to do this work,” said Mr Sokong. “This punishment is acceptable because it is the very minimum.”

The lawyer said he would discuss the possibility of an appeal with his client.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday by telephone from Bangkok that Mr Suphap was not affiliated in any way with the Thai military.

“He is not associated with he Thai military, and the military has verified that he’s just an ordinary citizen, and in fact…he has no rank.”

Mr Panitan added that although the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs was available to assist Mr Suphap, Thailand did not expect special treatment for any of its nationals on trial in other countries.

(Additional reporting by Julia Wallace)


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