Seven Thais Questioned in Phnom Penh

In a marathon session yesterday, the seven Thais arrested at the border last week were subjected to hours of questioning at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, ap­pearing before Judge Chaing Sinat for a second time on char­ges of illegal crossing and trespassing in a military area.

The group, whose arrests threa­tened to inflame bilateral ties that had appeared to be on the mend, includes Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from the governing Demo­crat Party, and the nationalist firebrand Veera Somkwamkid, who has pushed for aggressive government action on frontier areas claimed by Thailand.

Information on the nominally con­fidential closed-door hearing was scarce yesterday, with officials unavailable afterward or of­fering few details.

Judge Ke Sakhorn, the court’s de­puty president, said by telephone after the interviews that the questioning of witnesses would continue, but declined to com­ment further.

“The judge will keep asking other witnesses further,” Judge Sak­horn said.

Ros Oun, one of two defense lawyers hired by the Thai government, said he had not asked for bail and was not sure when he would do so.

“I haven’t submitted yet be­cause I haven’t prepared any document yet,” Mr Oun said. Defense lawyer Pech Vicheka and Judge Sinat, in charge of the investigation, could not be reached.

Mr Veera and Mr Panich ig­nored questions from reporters. Clad in blue prison clothes, the group arrived a little before 8 am and stayed until about 7 pm, except for the two female de­tai­n­ees, who departed at about 4 pm.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pi­ro­mya said ahead of yesterday’s hearing that the seven Thais were going to admit that they trespassed on Cambodian territory, but that they did so unintentionally, according to the Bangkok Post.

According to the Thai government, the seven Thais had been in­structed to investigate claims that Thai villagers were unable to make use of lands near the frontier. The group was detained on Dec 29 about a kilometer inside Banteay Meanchey province.

Illegal entry is punishable by between three to six months in prison, while unauthorized entry into a military area is punishable by between six months and a year and can carry a fine of be­tween $250 and $500.

The Thai-Cambodia border at Banteay Meanchey province was calm yesterday after “yellow shirts” protesters left the day before, said Chhuok Ang, a border police commander in Ban­­teay Meanchey province. Thai soldiers remained posted along the border, but many have de­parted, he added.

“Although the border between Cambodia and Thailand is calm and quiet, our border police are still standing at the same position, but some Thai troops have moved back to their base near the border,” Mr Ang said. “Both Cambo­dian and Thai border villagers are feeling normal like before.”

A group of roughly 30 yellow shirts was escorted Wednesday by Thai authorities on a visit to inspect the border area near where the seven Thais were de­tained last week. The border visit followed two days of protests at the Cambodian consulate in Aranya­prathet.

Life was back to normal yesterday at Chork Chey village, where the Thais were arrested last week, said village chief Ros Son. The village is in O’Chrou district’s O’Beichoan commune.

“The situation at the border between my Chork Chey village and the Thai village in front of border marker 46 is calm be­cause the Thai yellow shirts are gone,” said Ms Son.

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