Monday, 24 January 2011 20:01 Sebastian Strangio and Cheang Sokha
Thai Yellow Shirts have threatened to protest “indefinitely” from today in a bid to pressure the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva into taking stronger action in a border dispute with Cambodia.
Chamlong Srimuang, leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, said the group wants Abhisit to withdraw from the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee, cancel a 2000 memorandum of understanding with Cambodia concerning border negotiations and urge Cambodians to withdraw from disputed border areas.
“We will gather indefinitely if Abhisit doesn’t come out to protect the country,” he told reporters in Bangkok.
He said the protest would begin at 2pm on a bridge less than a kilometre from the prime minister’s office, known as Government House, which the group occupied for three months in 2008.
“We won’t get into Government House tomorrow or the next day, but I don’t know yet about the following days,” Chamlong said.
The warning comes after Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday convicted five Thais – including Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party – of entering the country illegally.
Their nine-month jail sentences were suspended by the court, and the five returned to Thailand on Saturday.
Last month, seven Thais were arrested by Cambodian soldiers in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district after they reportedly travelled to the border to “investigate” the joint border demarcation process.
The remaining two members of the group – Yellow Shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Taiputana Taiboon – have also been charged with espionage, facing potential 10-year jail terms.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the prospect of more Yellow Shirt protests was an “internal affair” of Thailand, and would not affect relations with Bangkok.
“We don’t have any concerns about the continuing demonstrations by the Yellow Shirts in Bangkok,” he said.
Thai officials also denied the protests would have any negative ripple effects for the two countries’ relationship.
“I think the government has been very clear ... the government has said many times that the 2000 MoU is necessary,” said Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The Thai government is very clear on this and the Cambodian government understands that the protests have nothing to do with the government.”
In 2008, the Yellow Shirts took to Bangkok’s streets for more than six months in a bid to force ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra’s allies from power, culminating in an eight-day seizure of the city’s airports.
The protest ended after a court disbanded the ruling party and Abhisit took power two weeks later in a parliamentary vote.
On Sunday, Abhisit said the Cambodian court ruling would not bear on the ongoing border demarcation process.
“The ruling has no effect on the border issue because of the memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Cambodia on the survey and demarcation of land boundary signed in 2000,” he told the Bangkok Post.
Abhisit also said the government would not revoke the MoU, saying it could lead to clashes between the two countries.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BLOOMBERG