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Thailand to offer legal advice to man who laid land mines

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Thai national Suphap Vong Pakna is led from court on Friday after being sentenced for laying mines in Oddar Meanchey province.

AUTHORITIES in Thailand plan to offer legal advice to a Thai citizen who was convicted of planting land mines in Cambodian territory, a government spokesman said Sunday.

The military court in Phnom Penh on Friday sentenced Suphap Vong Pakna to 20 years in prison on Friday after the man confessed to planting land mines along the contested border with Thailand.

Officials with the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry have been assigned to offer aid to the convicted man, said Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, who characterised the offer as the sort of assistance any government would give a citizen who is facing legal action in a foreign country.

“They are looking into what assistance the government is able to provide,” Panitan said.

“They can provide some legal advice, they can contact his family members, and they can help, if needed, select an attorney to help appeal the case.”

Both Cambodia and Thailand are signatories to the Ottawa Treaty, which places strict bans on the use and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines.

To date, Thailand has been unwilling to comment on the case, with Panitan only saying it should be decided through “normal legal channels”.
On Sunday, the spokesman would only reiterate that the convicted man is not currently connected to the Thai military.

“He is not a soldier,” Panitan said.

In testimony earlier this month, Suphap Vong Pakna said that he had been hired by Thai soldiers to plant at least five land mines before he was arrested by authorities in Oddar Meanchey province last February.

Suphap Vong Pakna said he was offered 2,000 baht to 3,000 baht, or roughly US$60 to $90, for each land mine he planted, his court-appointed lawyer said.

On Friday, Military Court Judge Pork Pan found the Thai national guilty on charges including attempted murder, endangering national security and entering the country illegally.

Suphap Vong Pakna, the judge said, tried to “lay mines in an attempt to kill people, create panic and affect national order and cause political instability”.

After the hearing, the man’s Cambodian defence lawyer said the verdict was satisfactory because it fell at the lower end of a range that included a maximum of 30 years in prison.

Defendant a ‘victim’
“The sentence is acceptable because it is a low punishment for such a crime,” said Sam Sokong, a lawyer with the Cambodian Defenders Project, who said he would discuss the possibility of an appeal with his client.

The lawyer had earlier argued for leniency, calling his client a “victim”.

“Due to his poverty and low education, he sacrificed his life for money without knowing that laying mines is criminal.”

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