Seven Thai nationals—including at least one member of Parliament—were detained about a kilometer inside Banteay Meanchey province yesterday morning after reportedly traveling to inspect the Thai-Cambodia border, according to officials.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech yesterday afternoon that the Thais would be sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court to be charged and then detained in Prey Sar prison, contradicting a Bangkok Post report that they were released yesterday.
The detained group includes “yellow shirt” activist Veera Somkwamkid; Panich Vikitsreth, a member of the governing Democrat Party; and several journalists.
“We arrested seven Thai nationals, including a member of the yellow-shirt group, Veera Somkwamkid, and two parliamentarians and some journalists,” Mr Hun Sen said in a speech yesterday afternoon. “They will be brought to the court, so the court can charge them, then they will be jailed in Prey Sar prison.”
“I hope that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will understand Cambodia’s legal procedure, which nobody can violate,” the premier said, adding that he would not intervene in the court process.
“I think the arrest of the seven Thais will not ruin diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Thailand,” he said.
Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said that the seven Thais—five males and two females—were detained about 1.2 km inside Cambodian territory in O’Chrou district’s O’Beichoan commune.
“They entered illegally into Cambodian territory,” Mr Socheat said. “We do not know what reasons made them enter Cambodian territory, but they do not have any legal documents.”
Provincial police chief Hun Hean said late yesterday that the seven Thais were still in police custody.
“The seven Thais who were arrested are being questioned at the provincial police headquarters,” Mr Hean said. “We are making legal documents and waiting for the order from the top level.”
Official Thai news agency MCOT reported yesterday that Thai officials had been sent to negotiate with Cambodian authorities.
According to MCOT, Mr Panich, the former Bangkok deputy governor, said Thais living near the border claimed their paddy fields had been seized by Cambodian soldiers. The news agency said Mr Panich went to inspect the area in his capacity as a member of a committee tasked with examining the contentious records of the last joint border meetings.
But Var Kimhong, chairman of the Joint Border Committee, said the border area visited by the seven Thais had already been demarcated.
“We have already identified all the border posts over there,” Mr Kimhong said. “There are no more problems over there.”
The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday sent a note to the Thai Embassy protesting two recent fatal shootings of Cambodians near the border.
Temperatures rose in September of last year when Mr Veera was among a group of yellow-shirt nationalists to stage a protest near Preah Vihear temple.
However, yesterday’s detention of the seven Thais follows an apparent detente in the sometimes tense relations between Thailand and Cambodia. Senior officials from the two countries have met frequently in recent months, and most troops were withdrawn at the beginning of December from the contested border area around Preah Vihear temple.
Officials at the Thai Embassy could not be reached.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)