A Thai parliamentarian who faces criminal charges after allegedly trespassing in Banteay Meanchey province last month was released on bail on Wednesday along with a co-defendant in the politically fraught case.
Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, is one of seven Thais facing charges of illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base after being arrested by Cambodian soldiers while reportedly “investigating” the contentious border demarcation process between Thailand and Cambodia.
He was released to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh on Wednesday along with another member of his party, Narumol Chitwaratana.
“We released them on bail, though they are still under the authority of the court,” Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said.
Ros Aun, the Cambodian lawyer representing the seven accused, said that he posted bail of one million riels (US$246) for each of his clients, though the court denied bail requests for the five other defendants.
Ros Aun said the court has completed its investigation in the case, though a trial date has not yet been set.
“They are free, though they cannot leave Cambodia,” Ros Aun said.
“We requested bail for all seven Thais but the court denied it and only two were granted.”
The group, including Veera Somkwamkid, a former leader of the “Yellow Shirts” People’s Alliance for Democracy and also a leader of Thailand Patriot Network, was arrested on December 29 near the border in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district across the border from Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, while attempting to investigate the border demarcation process.
They were charged with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a restricted military base, charges that carry combined maximum sentences of 18 months in prison.
On Monday, Veera and his secretary Ratree Taiputana Taiboon were slapped with an additional charge of collecting information that may harm the national defence, which could net them up to 10 years in jail.
When contacted on Wednesday, Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Bangkok welcomed the court’s ruling.
“We welcome the decision to grant bail to Mr Panich and Narumol, and we’re hopeful that bail will also be granted for the other people who are still detained,” he said.
According to their bail conditions, he added, the pair must remain in Cambodia and report to the court when summoned.
Thani said Thai officials were still unclear about when the seven might face trial.
“We’re still awaiting word from the court,” he said. “We hope that things will be resolved as soon as possible.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE