While Thai “yellow-shirt” activist Veera Somkwamkid’s lawyers laid plans to appeal his conviction on spying charges in Phnom Penh, military officials in Preah Vihear province said Thai-land continued padding a recent troop buildup in the contested border region yesterday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday sentenced the Thai Patriots Network’s Mr Veera and his assistant, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, to eight and six-year jail terms, respectively, after convicting the pair of crossing into Cambodia illegally, entering a military area unauthorized and espionage.
Ros Oun, one of their lawyers, said an appeal was in the works.
“I don’t know the date yet,” he said. “I need to talk with my clients first.”
In Preah Vihear, meanwhile, Major General Srey Doek, commander of the RCAF 3rd Division, said Thai troops and artillery continued arriving across the border yesterday amid a week-old buildup.
Thai and Cambodian troops have been at a standoff over a disputed 4.6-square-km stretch of the border since 2008. Thai nationalist groups like the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Mr Veera’s TPN have denounced their government for not doing more to stake their claim to the land.
Despite Cambodia’s own buildup, Maj Gen Doek said both sides were still committed to talking through the standoff.
“Our forces will remain at their posts and avoid any problems and let both governments work out the issue,” he said.
But in Bangkok, Mr Veera’s colleagues were keeping up the pressure.
According to The Nation newspaper, TPN coordinator Suthorn Rakrong warned that a “third party” might use Mr Veera’s conviction as a pretext to set fire to the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok’s Wang Thonglang district.
“If anything like that happens, I insist it has nothing to do with the Thai Patriots Network,” he was quoted as saying.
According to The Bangkok Post, senior PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang also attempted to distance his group from talk of an attack on the embassy.
“The PAD will not resort to any violence,” he was quoted as saying. “If the Cambodian Embassy is really burnt down, it will have nothing to do with the yellow shirts.”
Mr Chamlong did say, however, that the PAD would stage a “mass street rally” in Bangkok on Saturday if the government failed to step up efforts to free the jailed Thais.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi declined to say whether the government was taking any special security precautions around the embassy.
“The authorities concerned are looking into that and will make adjustments as they deem appropriate,” he said by telephone yesterday.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers spokesman, said yesterday that “Thailand’s government has an obligation to protect” the embassy.
Amid the legal dustup, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was to arrive in Siem Reap today for the latest meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation Between Cambodia and Thailand.
Mr Thani said Tuesday’s convictions may come up. While not on the two-day meeting’s agenda, he said, “this does not preclude this issue being discussed.”
He suggested that it may be premature for Thailand to ask for a pardon from Cambodia’s Royal Family, however.
With Mr Veera’s lawyers still planning an appeal, he said, “let’s take it one step at a time.”
Mr Thani also questioned reports of a military buildup on the Thai side of the border—routine exercises, he suggested—and said relations with Cambodia were actually on the mend.
He noted meeting between the neighbors’ prime ministers in the past several months and the return of their respective ambassadors last year.
“So if you look at the big picture, I think you will see that bilateral relations have improved,” he said.