Four Thai nationals arrested for trespassing in Banteay Meanchey province last month were released on bail by the Appeal Court today, though Yellow Shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid remains behind bars to await trial in the high-profile case.
Ros Aun, a Cambodian lawyer hired to help represent the group, said the four had posted bail of one million riels (US$247) each and would stay in Cambodia ahead of their trial.
“The court found that they are minor offenders and the law said we could request bail for them,” Ros Aun said.
The four released today were part of a group of seven people – including Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party – who were arrested by Cambodian soldiers in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district.
They reportedly travelled to the border to “investigate” the demarcation process between Thailand and Cambodia.
All seven have been charged with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base, charges that carry a maximum combined sentence of 18 months in prison.
In addition, two members of the group – Veera and his secretary Ratree Taiputana Taiboon, who was released today – have been charged with espionage, facing potential 10-year jail terms.
The four released today appeared in good spirits as they left the court with Thai Embassy officials.
One member of the group, Saemdin Lertbutr, said they would join Panich and Naruemol Chitwaratana, who were granted bail last week, in staying at the embassy.
“We welcome the Appeal Court decision to grant bail to the four, and as for [Mr] Veera, I think he is in discussion with his lawyers to see whether he will have to appeal to the Supreme Court,” Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said.
Veera struck a defiant tone following the hearing, vowing to seek bail again.
“I will appeal to the Supreme Court. I will fight to the end,” the Bangkok Post quoted Veera as saying.
A trial date has not yet been set for the case, though Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva told Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper on Monday that he was confident it would be settled promptly.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the court is “proceeding on this case in accordance with Cambodia’s immigration law, taking consideration of the current good relations between Cambodia and Thailand without any animosity towards the Thai people”.
On Monday, a man who was sentenced to life in prison in Thailand for drug trafficking became the first Cambodian to be returned to the Kingdom under a prisoner swap agreement between the two countries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said.
“He will serve his jail term [in Cambodia] based on his conviction in Thailand,” Koy Kuong said, adding that three other Cambodians imprisoned in Thailand were expected to be returned soon, following the processing of their cases.
The four Cambodian prisoners, Koy Kuong said, came in exchange for two Thai nationals imprisoned in Cambodia who were returned home in July 2009.
The men – Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading – were given life sentences for terrorism after being convicted of involvement in a plot to bomb Western embassies in Phnom Penh in 2003.
The men are said to have ties with the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, which claimed responsibility for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.
Thani declined to comment on whether a similar prisoner swap could be used to address Panich’s case, calling the transfers “a separate issue”. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE