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Hun Sen firm on Thais

Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that a Thai parliamentarian and six other Thais arrested on trespassing charges will have to serve at least two-thirds of their jail sentences if convicted, as additional charges were announced against two of the detainees.

A group of Thais including Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, were arrested in Banteay Meanchey province last month and charged with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base, charges that carry a combined maximum sentence of 18 months in prison. Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, the premier said neither the government nor any other organisation could intervene the case.

“Intervention from all corners, including the United Nations, is impossible,” Hun Sen said.

“We will talk about this further when the court has completed its procedure, but the law is the law, the court is the court, and the government cannot influence or order the court to do this or that for a political compromise.”

He added: “After they are convicted, they have 30 days to make an appeal, and after the conviction is effective, they have to serve two thirds of their sentences before we consider whether there is a pardon or not. What I am saying is based on the law.”

Under Cambodian law, prisoners are eligible for pardon after serving two-thirds of their jail sentences. In 2009, however, the government released a Thai national sentenced to seven years in prison on espionage charges just days after his conviction.

The suspect, an airport engineer named Sivarak Chutipong, was arrested for allegedly passing the flight details of Thaksin Shinawatra to the Thai Embassy during one of the fugitive former Thai prime minister’s controversial visits to the Kingdom.

Cambodian officials said at the time that the release was secured in part through the intervention of Thaksin, a bitter rival of the current Thai government who currently lives abroad to avoid a prison term for graft.

Also yesterday, municipal court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said two of the seven Thai detainees – Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Taiputana – faced an additional espionage charge.

“We have charged Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree with collecting information that might damage national defence,” Sok Roeun said. The charge carries a sentence of between five and 10 years in prison.

Veera, a former leader of Thailand’s “Yellow Shirt” People’s Alliance for Democracy movement, now leads the Thailand Patriot Network, a PAD splinter group. Veera and the Yellow Shirts have staged repeated rallies at the border over the past few years to protest alleged Cambodian encroachment on Thai territory.

Pich Vicheka, a Cambodian lawyer hired to represent Veera, said yesterday that he had yet to receive word of the additional charge against his client.

Thai officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, though the Bangkok Post reported that Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had called an “urgent meeting” yesterday with members of his cabinet in response to Hun Sen’s comments.

“Mr Abhisit said the first priority of the government is to help the detained Thais,” the newspaper said.

On Sunday, a group of Yellow Shirt activists, including a former senator, flew to Phnom Penh to meet with the detainees and offer legal assistance in the case.

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