Sunday, 6 March 2011

Veera stuck between the proverbial

via CAAI

Published: 5/03/2011
Newspaper section: News

In our lives we surely must have come across one of those unfortunates _ the short-sighted girl who loses her spectacles on a camping trip; the nice boy who makes one simple mistake and his life spirals downhill to that miserable place of what-could-have-been; the person who seems to stumble just a little but falls all the way into the deep, dark abyss...

I often think of Veera Somkhwamkid as one such unfortunate soul.

For some inexplicable reason, Mr Veera finds himself in a corner so painfully tight that no choice seems available to him that will not entail his ending up in utmost misery.

I will never know what prompted Mr Veera to "cross the line" and walk across that uncertain borderline on that sunny day right before New Year's. In the video taken by one of his 6 companions (which ironically ended up as evidence against him in the Cambodian court) Mr Veera appeared energetic and confident, a man fully assured of the path he'd chosen and the righteousness of his cause.

The footage, which showed a clear sky and a golden-brown, just-harvested field with the soft tinkling sound of buffalo bells in the background, lets us see Mr Veera guiding his companions along. He tells them about the borderline, about Thai and Cambodian communities, even about what he made sound was the sure-fire possibility of them getting apprehended by Cambodian soldiers if they continued their walk... which they did.

In that video, Mr Veera showed no fear or hesitation, unlike his travel mate Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth who, despite trying to keep his outward cool, often looked back to where he came from and who made an attempt to inform his secretary and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of where he was going. In my opinion, Mr Veera even looked casual, as if he were walking in his own backyard, which, come to think of it, was probably what he thought he was doing.

We know where that casual walkabout has led him. Mr Veera and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon have been behind bars in Cambodia's Prey Sar prison for more than two months now. Unless they seek a royal pardon, it is likely they will have to stay in there for eight and six years, respectively, as per their sentences. Even with a pardon, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen once said they would have to serve two-thirds of their jail term.

When Mr Veera was last seen in public in February when he was brought to hear his verdict before the court, the trauma of prison time was evident in his thinner body, careworn expression and seemingly haunted eyes. What's worse is what options does he have now? His case has been so politicised that his life no longer seems to be his. The Thai Patriots Network, the ultra-nationalist group which he served as coordinator, has remained adamant that it will not see Mr Veera "bow" to the Cambodians by seeking a royal pardon. Evidently, such an act by Mr Veera _ the TPN's poster boy _ would be tantamount to him conceding that he had committed wrong and did indeed "trespass" into Cambodian territory, a concession that would go against everything the nationalist group has campaigned on.

The same burden must be heavy on Mr Veera's mind. The man really is left with no choice. If he holds on to his conviction _ his insistence that the land he trod on Dec 29 belongs to Thailand _ he will literally be left to rot in prison. His TPN may continue to make noise but very few people in Thailand will remember him or care much about the nobility of his suffering.

The other road left to him is no less grievous. If Mr Veera chooses to try to live to fight another day and submits a plea for royal pardon, what would be left of him? Even if he regains his freedom, he would become a man with no convictions. His friends and fellow nationalists could look down on him or turn their backs on him. Who would listen to him the next time he goes out to campaign? Who would follow him if he leads another march into uncertain areas? Who would respect him? And the worst question of all: will he, who has built such a strong faith in his nationalist cause, still find respect for himself? It may have seemed innocuous at the time, but that casual walkabout at the border has led Mr Veera into a truly difficult dilemma.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.

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