A Thai parliamentarian and six other Thai nationals were charged yesterday with illegal entry and fraudulently entering a military area as Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya flew to Phnom Penh to discuss the case with his Cambodian counterpart.
The seven Thais—five men and two women—-were arrested Wednesday morning about a kilometer inside Banteay Meanchey province after reportedly traveling to inspect the contentious Thai-Cambodia border. They were sent to Prey Sar prison yesterday evening after being charged at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
The detained group includes “yellow shirt” activist Veera Somkwamkid, who has pushed for aggressive Thai government action on disputed sections of the border; Panich Vikitsreth, a member of the governing Democrat Party; and at least one journalist.
Mr Kasit met with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong for about 45 minutes yesterday, telling reporters afterward that Thailand would respect the court process and that the case would not affect Thai-Cambodia relations.
“We respect the judiciary system of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and we would like the Cambodian government to finish the case soon,” Mr Kasit said through a Thai interpreter.
“We came to see the truth in the case of the seven Thais and we came to tell the truth of the Thai government,” Mr Kasit said.
Mr Kasit said the two countries would avoid armed conflict along the border, a statement that followed Monday’s note of protest to Thailand over two recent fatal shootings of Cambodians near the border.
Mr Namhong told reporters Mr Kasit had acknowledged that the Thais crossed into Cambodian territory.
Kasit Piromya “said he did not expect that they had entered so deeply into Cambodian territory,” Mr Namhong said.
“There is no release as we already said, and let the court follow its procedure,” Mr Namhong said.
He added that Mr Veera and other Thai nationals had illegally crossed into the same area twice before, in September and July of last year, but did not penetrate as deeply into Cambodian territory.
The seven Thais were arrested about 1.2 km inside Cambodian territory in O’Chrou district’s O’Beichoan commune, according to Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry.
Deputy municipal prosecutor Sok Roeun said by phone yesterday that the seven were charged with illegal entry under the immigration law and fraudulently entering a military area under the newly enforced penal code.
“All seven were charged the same,” Mr Roeun said, declining to identify all of the defendants.
Judge Chaing Sinat said the defendants had been charged and sent to Prey Sar prison but declined to elaborate.
Illegal entry is punishable by between three to six months in prison, while fraudulently entering a military area is punishable by between six months and a year in prison and can also carry a fine of between $250 and $500.
Thai Ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai visited the courthouse for about an hour yesterday morning, but did not reply to a request for comment.
Likewise, as they were being escorted from the courthouse, Mr Veera and Mr Panich did not reply to questions on why they had crossed into Cambodian territory, although both men cracked a smile.
Yesterday’s charges follow the sentencing this month of three Thai nationals for illegal entry and the illegal use of weapons. The trio was given 18 months in prison on Dec 9, only to be pardoned and set free on Dec 20, the day of a visit to Phnom Penh by Mr Kasit.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)