The Nation (Thailand)
A Thai nationalist group plans to stage a protest against Cambodia Monday (January 3) near the border in Sa Kaew province over the arrest of seven Thais last week, including a ruling Democrat Party MP.
The Thai Patriots Group, a splinter faction of the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), claims that Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth and six other Thais, including PAD member Veera Somkwamkid, were arrested on Thai soil and demands that Cambodian authorities release them immediately.
Thai police and troops are expected to block the group from getting close to the border and limit any negative impact on bilateral relations.
Panich, Veera and five other Thais were arrested last Wednesday (December 29) while visiting Thai villagers near the Sa Kaew border.
Panich claims he was arrested while visiting Thai villagers on Thai soil.
But foreign minister Kasit Piromya admitted that the seven Thais were inside Cambodia when they were arrested.
Foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdee confirmed Sunday (January 2) that the seven had encroached on Cambodian land.
He said the Royal Survey Department and Foreign Ministry officials had inspected the disputed area and confirmed that the seven Thais were on Cambodian soil.
Thani said Panich and his group could defend themselves in the Cambodian Court, and argue that they did not intend to encroach on Cambodian territory.
Chaiwat Sinsuwong insisted Sunday the seven Thais were arrested in Thailand because the villagers were holding Nor Sor 3 land titles.
"The Thai government is distorting information by saying they were arrested in Cambodia. We would like to call on the Thai government to urgently help the seven Thais," Chaiwat said.
He said his group would leave Government House at noon for Sa Kaew, where they would organise a mass protest.
Chaiwat said his group would also demand that the Thai government file a lawsuit against Phnom Penh for unlawfully arresting Thais, and thus violating the Geneva Convention.
Karun Saingarm, another leader of the Thai Patriots, said local villagers at the spot where the seven were arrested were calling on the Thai government to issue them full land deeds, but state officials had refused to do this.
Karun said the government claimed the area was occupied by Cambodian troops. He said the Thai government's inaction was tantamount to accepting the 1:200,000-scale map of Cambodia and this would lead to Thailand losing the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre block near Preah Vihear Temple.
Also on Sunday, the Thai Patriots submitted a letter to First Army Area Commander Lt-General Udomdej Sitabutr, urging him to help the seven Thais and protect Thai sovereignty at the disputed area.
The letter also informed the First Army Area of the group's plan to hold a protest near the Sa Kaew border.
Meanwhile, Charnvit Kasetsiri, former rector of Thammasat University, warned that the problem could escalate and harm bilateral ties with Cambodia.
He noted that the seven Thais did not inform local Army officials of their visit to the disputed area in Sa Kaew so their move was seen as a plan to stir up nationalistic feelings that could hurt ties between the two countries.
Also on Sunday, Komsan Phothikong, deputy rector of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said Panich could lose his House seat if he is convicted of encroaching on Cambodian soil by the Cambodian court.
Komsan said if Panich gets a jail term and is not released on bail, he may be regarded as having lost his MP status.
Komsan said the Election Commission would have to invoke Articles 91 and 106 of the Constitution to seek a ruling from the Constitution Court on Panich's status, if the MP was convicted by the Cambodian court.
Komsan said although the alleged crime did not happen in Thailand, articles in the charter aimed to prevent people with tainted backgrounds from becoming public representatives.
"For example, if an MP steals in the US and is jailed, or if an MP enters Japan illegally and is jailed in Japan, he will also lose his MP status," he said. But Komsan noted that Panich might argue that his arrest by Cambodian authorities was unlawful.