By THE NATION, AGENCIES
Published on February 2, 2011
PAD, TPN claims govt responsible after Cambodian court sentences Veera to eight years in jail and Ratree to six; warn of violence by third party
Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon were yesterday given lengthy prison sentences in Phnom Penh over charges of illegal entry and espionage in a case that could worsen ties between Thailand and Cambodia.
In the one-day trial, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Veera, who leads the Thai Patriots Network (TPN), and his assistant Ratree, guilty of espionage, illegal entry and trespassing in a military zone. These charges carry a maximum combined penalty of 11 years and six months.
Veera was sentenced to eight years behind bars and a fine of 1.8 million riel (about Bt18,000), while Ratree was given six years and fined 1.2 million riel (Bt12,000).
The pair were among seven Thais arrested on December 29 while allegedly inspecting disputed border territory. The five other members of the group, including Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth, received suspended sentences for illegal entry on January 21 and have since returned home.
Veera and Ratree have up to a month to appeal the verdict. Their legal adviser Karun Sai-ngam said yesterday that the defence team would file an appeal immediately.
The TPN leader, wearing a blue prison uniform, kept insisting in court yesterday that he was not on Cambodian soil when arrested.
"I was on Thai territory," he told the court through a translator. "I had no intention to invade Cambodian territory."
Veera also cited a Google Earth map to support this argument that he was on Thai territory when Cambodian soldiers arrested him. When asked if he was sure the Cambodian authorities would approve the map, Veera responded that maps on Google Earth were globally accepted and should be considered the most neutral at the moment.
In Bangkok, Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said yesterday that the ministry would support the two on whatever they decide to do in response to the ruling - be it filing an appeal or seeking an amnesty.
Thani, who is also director-general of the Department of Information, said the ministry has insisted that the verdict would have no legal bearing on the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which Veera's group is part of, demanded yesterday that the government be held responsible for the guilty verdict issued by the Cambodian court.
PAD spokesman Parnthep Puapongphan, speaking at the protest site outside Government House, said the government had never supplied any information that could help Veera and Ratree in court.
"Throughout this trial, up until this hour, the government has not provided any information that benefits the two. So it must be held responsible for the negative ruling," Parnthep said yesterday evening.
He said the PAD would file petitions shortly with the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Administrative Court against the government and certain politicians in relation to their performance over the border conflict in general and the court case in particular.
Senator Kamnoon Sithisamarn said at the PAD protest site yesterday that the guilty verdict was like a "slap in the face" where Thailand's dignity was concerned.
Suthorn Rakrong, coordinator of the TPN, warned that a third party might use the situation to cause more confusion and maybe even lead to a coup by indulging in violent acts such as torching the Cambodian embassy.
"If anything like that really happens, I insist it has nothing to do with the Thai Patriots Network," he said.
The activist also said that leaders of the group would meet this morning to come up with a statement rejecting the Cambodian court's verdict.