Thai soldiers increased patrols yesterday as “yellow shirt” protesters visited the Thai-Cambodia border near the area where seven Thais were arrested Wednesday for allegedly crossing into Cambodia illegally, authorities said.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s First Army Area Commander Lieutenant General Udomdej Setaboot met with Cambodian Region 5 RCAF Commander Lieutenant General Boon Seng in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province to discuss the incident and prevent any misunderstandings, the official Thai news agency MCOT reported yesterday.
Dy Phan, chief of the RCAF Cambodian-Thai relations border bureau, said he traveled to Thailand with Lt Gen Seng, but did not participate in the meeting or know what was discussed.
The seven Thais were arrested Wednesday morning about a kilometer inside Banteay Meanchey province after reportedly traveling to inspect the contentious Thai-Cambodian border.
They are currently being held in Prey Sar prison after Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged them on Thursday with illegal entry and fraudulently entering a military area.
Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean said yesterday that he had seen an influx of Thai troops on the border and that they had been joined by dozens of yellow shirt protesters.
“The number of Thai soldiers increased on their soil near the location of [the incident],” he said.
Chouk Ang, commander of the 911 border police unit, which patrols Banteay Meanchey province, said that he also saw more activity near the border yesterday.
“Thai soldiers increased their attention with patrols along the border near where seven Thais were arrested, and there were 50 to 70 Thai [yellow shirts] near the scene,” he said, adding that a helicopter could be seen flying inside Thai territory.
Mr Ang said Thai troops closed at least three unofficial crossings in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chou district Thursday, prompting Cambodian authorities to issue a warning to locals, he said.
“We advised our Cambodians not to enter Thailand illegally without passports or border passes during this time, because we are concerned Thai authorities will arrest them as revenge for the Thais arrested on Wednesday,” he said.
He said about 30 to 40 Cambodians were arrested yesterday in Thailand, but were not detained and were returned to nearby border checkpoints.
“Thai authorities arrested Cambodians, but it is not revenge for the seven Thais arrested,” he said.
Hem Vannak, commander of the 891 border police unit, which patrols near Poipet City, said he had not seen any unusual activity on the border, but that migrant workers are being warned against crossing illegally.
“Thai authorities and Cambodian authorities are on full alert,” he said.
Major General Srey Dek, commander of RCAF division 3, stationed near Preah Vihear temple, said yesterday afternoon he had seen no unusual troop movements.
“Now, my area is normal, but if the Thai soldiers act, we will respond at that time,” he said.
Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday to discuss the case with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong. During his visit he said that Thailand would respect the court process and that the case would not affect Thai-Cambodian relations.
But Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reportedly suggested on Thursday that the arrests could have negative consequences.
“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 according to the Bangkok Post. “Otherwise, this would only further complicate the border problems.”
Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he was unaware of troop movements on the border, but reiterated yesterday that the arrests would not affect relations.
“We respect the justice system in Cambodia and we hope the case will be considered fairly,” he said. “We do want them to release them, but we respect the justice system. We wait to hear from the court system.”
Sok Roeun, deputy municipal prosecutor, declined to comment on when the seven Thais would be tried.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)