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Court to rule on Thai bail appeal

The Appeal Court will tomorrow rule on whether to grant bail to five Thai nationals charged with entering Cambodia illegally last month, Judge Choun Sunleng said today.

“All parties will be present at the court for a hearing tomorrow,” said Choun Sunleng, who is in charge of the case.

“The decision will be made after the hearing.”

Pich Vicheka, the group’s Cambodian defence lawyer, confirmed that the five defendants will appear at the court as scheduled.

He said the bail request was submitted to the Appeal Court on Friday after Phnom Penh Municipal Court rejected the initial request.

Seven Thai nationals, including a ruling Democrat Party MP, Panich Vikitsreth, and Veera Somkwamkid, a former leader of the “Yellow Shirts” People’s Alliance for Democracy, were arrested on December 29 near the border encampment in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district, across the border from Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.

The group claimed to be “investigating” the two countries’ contentious border demarcation process.

All seven were charged with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a restricted military base, charges that carry combined maximum sentences of 18 months in prison.

Veera and his secretary Ratree Taiputana Taiboon were later slapped with an additional charge of collecting information that might damage the national defence, which carries up to 10 years jail.

On Thursday, Panich and another member of the group, Naruemol Chitwaratana, were granted bail on health grounds, while the five others remain in custody.

The Nation reported today that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had voiced optimism that the case involving the seven, which has stoked tensions between the two neighbours, could be settled this week.

“Look at Cambodia’s recent statement. I’m confident that the case will be solved soon in the courtroom,” Abhisit told reporters, referring to a statement from the Cambodian Foreign Ministry that claimed the case would be tried in light of the “current good relations between Cambodia and Thailand”.

Abhisit said he knew of no complications within the Cambodian judicial system or political factors that might upset the outcome.

He said the government would try its best to get the five Thais still detained in Prey Sar prison freed on bail.

On Saturday, Thailand repatriated nearly 200 illegal migrant workers to Cambodia through the Poipet border crossing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.

He said, however, that the return of the workers was unrelated to the case of the seven Thais facing charges in Cambodia.

Tens of thousands of illegal migrant workers are repatriated back to Cambodia every year by Thai authorities.

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