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Thai Yellow Shirts rally in Bangkok

Activists from Thailand’s Yellow Shirt movement have burned Prime Minister Hun Sen’s photo and staged rallies in Bangkok to protest against last week’s arrest of a Thai parliamentarian and six other Thais for allegedly trespassing on Cambodian territory.

Panich Vikitsreth, an MP from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, was arrested along with six others near a Cambodian military encampment in Banteay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district, across the border from Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, while attempting to “investigate” the border demarcation process.

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

Also among those arrested was Veera Somkwamkid, a former activist with the People’s Alliance for Democracy, as the mainstream Yellow Shirt movement is formally known, who now heads a PAD splinter group called the Thailand Patriot Network.

On Friday, Yellow Shirt protesters gathered outside the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, burning a coffin with Hun Sen’s photo on it. The protests in the Thai capital continued yesterday, and the Yellows have vowed to stage a thousands-strong rally in Sa Kaeo province on Tuesday.

“We don’t have any reaction to these unlawful extremists,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said. “We’ll just let the court officials proceed with their work.”

PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan claimed the group had evidence that last week’s arrests took place on Thai soil and were thus unlawful. He accused the Cambodian government of staging the incident to distract from alleged Vietnamese incursions on the Kingdom’s eastern border, where the opposition Sam Rainsy Party has staged repeated protests.

“The Cambodians have been invaded by the Vietnamese and they cannot protest,” Panthep said. “[Cambodian leaders] want to deviate the attention of the Cambodian people and fight with the Thai government.”

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said, however, that the Thai government had conducted its own investigation of the case and had concluded that the arrests were in fact made on Cambodian soil.

Thani said Bangkok had no comment on the protests against Hun Sen and Cambodia.

“The issue is being covered by the court,” he said. “We should leave it to the court.”

Pich Vicheka, a lawyer representing Veera and three other defendants in the case, said yesterday that he had yet to receive any information on a trial date, adding that he was considering submitting a bail request for his clients.

Koy Kuong confirmed the government had given permission for Panich’s family to visit him this morning at Prey Sar prison, where the seven Thais are awaiting trial.

Last week, Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva dispatched his foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, to Phnom Penh to discuss the case with Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong. Following talks on Thursday, however, Hor Namhong told reporters that the case would proceed.

“While the court process is ongoing, the government cannot do anything,” Hor Namhong said. Kasit said through a translator that the incident would not create broader conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.

“We respect the judiciary of Cambodia,” he said. “We have proposed to the [Cambodian] government that they complete this case as soon as possible.”

Hun Sen addressed the case in a speech last Wednesday, saying Thai lawmakers “have parliamentary immunity in Thailand, but not in Cambodia”.

Veera and the PAD have staged repeated rallies at the border to protest against alleged Cambodian encroachment.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, called last week’s border visit an act of “provocation”, saying it was an attempt by hardline Yellows to stoke Thai nationalist sentiment regarding Preah Vihear temple and the countries’ contentious border.

“[The Thailand Patriot Network] and Veera have only one issue to cash in, and this is Preah Vihear,” Pavin said in an email last week. “But I think Thais and Cambodians get bored with it and many in both countries want to move on.”

Demarcation of the border is ongoing under the auspices of the bilateral Joint Border Committee, of which Panich is a member, according to the Bangkok Post. JBC talks have been stalled since 2009, however, pending the Thai parliament’s approval of the latest round of negotiations.

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