Thai Authorities Thwart Planned Border Protest

Thai authorities yesterday stopped several hundred “yellow-shirt” protesters from crossing into Banteay Meanchey province near where a Thai lawmaker and six other Thai nationals were detained Wednes­day, according to Cambo­dian officials. Another 5,000 were reportedly planning to protest near the border today.

In Phnom Penh, family members yesterday visited the seven jailed Thais, who are being held at Prey Sar prison after being charged Thursday by Phnom Penh Municipal Court with illegal entry and entering a military area without authorization.

“This morning, there were around 200 to 300 of the yellow-shirt protesters who tried to come to the area where we arrested the seven Thais on Dec 29, but they were blocked by Thai authorities,” Dy Pheng, director for Cambodia-Thailand border affairs, said by telephone.

Ung Oeun, governor of Bant­eay Meanchey province, said Thai authorities had increased their troop numbers along the border to prevent any incursions by protesters.

“Thai authorities have increased their forces along the border to prevent protesters entering Cam­bodia,” Mr Oeun said. “My Thai counterpart guaranteed that the protesters would be blocked.”

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Fo­reign Af­fairs, said that any protesters who entered Cambodia illegally would be arrested. Mr Kuong also said he thought today’s planned protest had been canceled because the Cambo­dian consulate in Sa Kaeo province’s Aranyaprathet district reported that a stage set up for the occasion had been taken down by Thai authorities.

But yellow shirt leader Chaiwat Sinsuwong told the Bangkok Post that he expected at least 5,000 people to attend the protest in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, which aims to in­crease pressure on Cambodia to re­lease the seven Thais. Among those detained are fellow yellow shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid and Panich Vikitsreth, a Democrat Party lawmaker and former Bangkok deputy governor. Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that the Thai government respected the right of the yellow shirts to rally but had asked them not to cross the border.

“The military is asking the protesters to respect rules and regulations regarding borders and stay in the area provided,” Mr Panitan said, adding that he did not know the exact location of the area. “We also ask them to take into consideration the sensitivities of the relations between the two countries.”

Although “yellow shirt” protesters claim the seven Thais were arrested on Thai soil, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told the Bangkok Post that an investigation by his ministry had confirmed they were on Cambodian territory. Mr Panitan said the ministry had yet to formally report a conclusion.

Yesterday morning about seven family members visited the detained Thais in Prey Sar prison, spending about two hours inside and coming and going in a Thai Embassy vehicle. A guard said the Thai Embassy regularly sent food to the detainees.

Heng Hak, prisons chief at the Interior Ministry, said the Thai Embassy had requested the visit.

Judge Ke Sakhorn, deputy president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said no trial date had been set for the Thais, as the case was still under investigation. Pech Vicheka, one of two defense lawyers for the seven Thais, said he was unsure if he would request bail and that he still needed to meet with family members.

Mr Kasit, Thailand’s foreign minister, flew to Phnom Penh on Thurs­day and met with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to discuss the arrests of the Thais. He told reporters afterward that Thailand respects Cambo­dia’s court process, while Mr Nam­hong said the prisoners would not be released.

     (Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)




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