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One Thai freed; one remains jailed

One Thai freed; one remains jailed

130204 02d
Thai Yellow Shirt supporter Ratree Pipattanapaiboon prays at Prey Sar prison last week. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Now that one of two Thai activists has been freed, diplomatic officials from Cambodia’s northern neighbour will now focus on the man still behind bars in Phnom Penh, where his future remains uncertain.

Veera Somkwamkid returned to Prey Sar on Friday after attending the ceremonial release of his secretary, Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, who was let go on the sidelines of the funeral for King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

Sihanouk’s son, King Norodom Sihamoni, is expected to pardon more than 400 prisoners today when his father is cremated.

Veera won’t be one of them.

As ultra-nationalist “Yellow-Shirt” activists, Veera and Ratree were sentenced to eight and six years, respectively, after being convicted in February 2011 on charges of espionage, illegal entry and entering a restricted military base.

The pair had been arrested in Banteay Meanchey province in 2010 while inspecting a border area claimed by Thailand. Since then, all efforts, including requests for prisoner swaps and royal pardons, have failed.

Ratree’s release came after a request from Prime Minister Hun Sen in January to free Ratree while reducing the sentence of Veera by six months.

“I am happy to see that relations are good,” was all Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia, Touchayoot Pakdi, would say about the case.

Veera said during the ceremony on Friday, before he was driven back to Prey Sar, that he would lodge an appeal to spend the remainder of his jail term in Thailand from the end of this month, when he would have served one-third of his sentence, the reduction of which goes into place today.

But Thailand’s foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, said the idea, which would involve sending a Cambodian prisoner in Thailand back in exchange, is tricky given the serious nature of Veera’s charges.

Cambodian prisoners detained in Thailand, he said, were up on drug trafficking and illegal entry charges, among others, while Veera was convicted for espionage.

“The government will explore all possible approaches and choose the appropriate one to secure his freedom,” Surapong said on Saturday.

Contacted yesterday, Cambodian Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong referred all questions about the activists to the Ministry of Justice, but calls there were not returned.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Freeman at [email protected]
With assistance from the Bangkok Post 

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