Sunday, 23 January 2011

'Invaders' jibe as Thais come home


via CAAI
Published: 23/01/2011

The 2nd Army chief has demanded Cambodian troops remove a stone tablet in the disputed border area bearing a message lambasting Thai troops as "invaders".

HOME AT LAST: Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth (centre) and Samdin Lertbutr (left) arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday. They, with Narumol Chitwaratana, Tainae Mungmajon and Kojpollathorn Chusanasevi, returned to Thailand after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court gave them a suspended jail term for trespassing on Cambodian territory and illegal entry into a military area.

The latest controversy in the Thai-Cambodian territorial dispute came as Bangkok yesterday welcomed back the five Thais allowed home by a Phnom Penh court after being found guilty of charges related to illegally crossing the border.

Lt Gen Thawatchai Samutsakhon said he had contacted Cambodian troops to remove the stone tablet, bearing the message "Thai troops _ the Invaders" written in Khmer, erected in front of Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara.

The temple, situated 300m away from Preah Vihear, is in the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre area claimed by both countries.

Lt Gen Thawatchai said the two countries have agreed not to build or erect anything that is indicative of ownership of the land.

"This stone tablet will have significant implications if it is used as evidence in cases involving territorial disputes in the International Court of Justice," Lt Gen Thawatchai said.

FIGHTING WORDS: A stone tablet with a message in Khmer branding Thai troops ‘invaders’ at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara.

"We cannot accept this. I have told them to take it down.

"If they don't take it down, I may have a sign with a similar message erected."

Cambodia put the stone tablet up after Thai troops withdrew from Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara on Dec 1.

Army specialist Kanok Nettarakawesana is named on the tablet as one of the "invaders".

At the time, Lt Gen Kanok was commander of the Suranaree task force and led about 200 Thai soldiers to enter the wat to hold talks with Cambodian authorities regarding the release of three Thais detained in the disputed area on July 15, 2008.

The three were members of the ultra-nationalist Dharmayatra group, which camped out on the Thai border in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district to protest Thailand's support of Phnom Penh's listing of the temple as a Unesco World Heritage site. They were freed after four hours of negotiations.

Lt Gen Kanok said he decided to lead the soldiers into Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara to stop Cambodian soldiers from taking the three Thais to Ban Komui on the Cambodian side.

Lt Gen Kanok insisted that the wat is located in the overlapping area and Thai soldiers have the authority to enter the temple.

"It was the first time that we had reached there. In the past, Thai soldiers never entered the area but I stood by our 1:50000 map which indicates the area is ours," he said.

Lt Gen Kanok shrugged off the name-calling by Cambodian soldiers.

He said he led the troops to enter the temple to assert the country's sovereignty over the disputed area.

He declined to comment on whether Thailand was at a disadvantage after the country withdrew its troops from the temple.

"You need to ask the people responsible for the issue," he said.

Meanwhile, the five Thais released from Phnom Penh arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday evening. They appeared exhausted and declined to comment.

On Friday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found each of the five Thais - Panich Vikitsreth, Narumol Chitwaratana, Samdin Lertbutr, Tainae Mungmajon, and Kojpollathorn Chusanasevi - guilty of two counts of trespassing onto Cambodian territory and illegal entry into a military area.

The judges sentenced each of them to nine months in jail and a fine of 1 million riel (7,520 baht), but suspended the terms.

Related: Panich's MP status to be reviewed
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday called an urgent meeting of relevant authorities to discuss what action should be taken in the wake of the guilty verdicts.

He said the government has asked the Cambodian government to translate the verdict into Thai so it can determine whether the ruling has any impact on Thailand's territorial integrity.

He said he would explain all relevant issues to the public today.

The five Thais were among a group of seven arrested by Cambodian authorities on Dec 27.

The remaining two are Veera Somkwamkid, a Thai Patriots Network coordinator, and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who both face additional charges of espionage.

The Phnom Penh court is scheduled to hand down its ruling on the two on Tuesday.

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