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Family visits Thai lawmaker in jail

Family members of a Thai parliamentarian arrested for trespassing in Banteay Meanchey province visited him yesterday in prison ahead of what is sure to be a high-profile trial that will test the newly improved relations between Thailand and Cambodia.

Panich Vikitsreth, an MP from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, was part of a group of seven Thai nationals arrested in Banteay Meanchey last week, across the border from Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.

Heng Hak, director of the general department of prisons at the Ministry of Interior, said relatives of Panich and the other Thais had travelled to Prey Sar prison yesterday to meet with them.

“The detainees made a request for the meeting via the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh,” Heng Hak said, adding that he was unsure of exactly how many visitors were in the group yesterday.

The seven Thais were charged in Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base, charges that carry a combined maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Thai officials said Panich, a member of the two countries’ Joint Border Committee, had travelled along with the rest of the group to “investigate” the border demarcation effort.

Also among those arrested was Veera Somkwamkid, a former leader of the “Yellow Shirt” People’s Alliance for Democracy, who also leads the Thailand Patriot Network, a PAD splinter group.

Investigating judge Chang Sinath said yesterday that no date had been set for a trial.

“The investigation will take more time,” she said. “I just received this case over the weekend, so I cannot say when the investigation will be done.”

Dy Phen, director of the border relations office in Banteay Meanchey province, said roughly 300 Yellow Shirt activists protested just across the border yesterday, close to the site of the arrests. Thai security forces, he added, had kept watch over the group and had ensured that they did not cross into Cambodia.

“If they enter Cambodia, we will use our law,” Dy Phen said. “Our armed forces have been deployed to defend against any encroachment.”

The protesters later moved their rally to the Cambodian consular office in Sa Kaeo province, Dy Phen added.

Over the weekend, Yellow Shirt activists rallied outside the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, claiming the seven prisoners were arrested on Thai soil and demanding their release. Thai officials have acknowledged, however, that the arrests took place inside Cambodian territory.

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