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Thai MP arrested at border

A Thai parliamentarian and six other Thais were arrested yesterday for allegedly trespassing on Cambodian territory in Banteay Meanchey province while examining the countries’ shared border, the latest turn in the protracted boundary conflict between the two nations.

Among those arrested were Panich Vikitsreth, an MP from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, and Veera Somkwamkid, a former leader of the “Yellow Shirt” People’s Alliance for Democracy who now leads the Thailand Patriot Network, a PAD splinter group. Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Hun Hean said the group of five men and two women was apprehended in the the province’s O’Chrou district, across the border from Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.

Speaking at Chaktomuk Theatre yesterday following the arrests, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the group would appear before Phnom Penh Municipal Court today to face charges under the Kingdom’s immigration law.

“Thai lawmakers have parliamentary immunity in Thailand, but not in Cambodia,” Hun Sen said.

“Tomorrow, they will be sent to the court, and when the court charges them, they will be jailed in Prey Sar prison.”

Hun Sen and other officials claimed two Thai lawmakers had been detained, though only the arrest of Panich could be confirmed. The premier said he had told interior minister Sar Kheng to bring the group to Phnom Penh rather than letting the case proceed in Banteay Meanchey.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had been informed of the incident.

“We have officers who are already in contact with each other. That’s a normal practice in the case of Thai citizens being detained,” he said.

Veera and the Yellow Shirts, who shut down Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport during protests in 2008, have repeatedly staged rallies at the border to protest alleged Cambodian encroachments.

PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said the jailed Thais “wanted to investigate the demarcation area between Thailand and Cambodia”. He insisted they had been on Thai territory yesterday when they were arrested.

“Cambodia has tried to invade us and hold the territory that belongs to us,” Panthep said. “Now, it has been proven that we were invaded by the Cambodian military.”

The fracas recalls an incident earlier this month in which MPs from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party went to investigate border demarcation with Vietnam in Kampong Cham province, scuffling briefly with Vietnamese security forces on what the SRP claims was Cambodian territory.

Panthep called on Cambodia to release the prisoners and “apologise to the Thai people and to the Thai government”. Hun Sen said, however, that he was confident the case would not affect bilateral relations because Abhisit would “understand Cambodia’s legal procedure.”

The premier added that Thai officials had contacted him and requested that he intervene in the case, though he said he had declined to do so.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said in an email that the Thai government would likely attempt to resolve the case quietly, noting that Abhisit has attempted to distance himself of late from the hardline PAD.

“There is no reason now for Abhisit to defend the PAD at the expense of a worsening relationship with Cambodia,” Pavin said. “I don’t think the Abhisit government is keen to exploit nationalism at this point in time to gain any political benefit.”

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