Thai MP arrested by Cambodian authorities
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Thai MP arrested by Cambodian authorities

On December 29, the Cambodian authorities arrested seven Thais on the grounds that they have illegally entered Cambodia. One of those arrested was Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth, who until recently was the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, but now serves as a member of the House committee on boundary affairs. Others arrested include well-known PAD activist Veera (the Bangkok Post refers to him as a PAD co-leader) and Samdin Lertbutr of the Dharma Army Foundation, who has close connections with Chamlong Srimuang, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Initially, it was stated definitively that they were on Thai soil. The Bangkok Post:

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth insists he and six other Thais were on Thai soil when detained by Cambodian soldiers on Wednesday.

The MP was speaking during a telephone interview before being released this afternoon.

PanichVikitsrethCambodiaFeat-621x395

Panich Vikitsreth, a member of Parliment of the ruling Democrat party, is escorted by Cambodian court security personnel at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Pic: AP.

However, this insistence actually only appears to be a belief as per The Nation:
“I believe that the location where I was inspecting is under Thai sovereignty,” Panich told The Nation by phone. “The 46th boundary monument that indicates the territory of the two countries is situated in the area.”

However, Abhisit when talking tough seems to imply they were in a disputed area per the Bangkok Post:

Prime Minister Abhisit said earlier today that the seven Thais should be released immediately and without conditions.

“Both countries have agreed that there must not be soldiers from either side in the area where the seven Thais were apprehended.

“We should not talk about them [the seven Thais] appearing in a Phnom Penh court now, the main point is no armed forces should be in the area in the first place.

“There is no deadline for their release as we’ll have to wait for the talks between Foreign Minister Kasit and his counterpart,” the prime minister said.

The Nation had an anonymous quote stating they were in a disputed area:

A senior security source meanwhile said that the site is a disputed area claimed by both countries, the area into which the group entered appeared to be behind the disputed line, deeper into Khmer territory.

AFP has a quote  where Abhisit goes even further:

“Cambodia must release all seven Thais immediately,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters. “Cambodia should not take this case to court as it will further complicate the issue.”

The seven, including Democrat Party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth, appeared in a court in Phnom Penh on Thursday for questioning, a day after being detained by Cambodian authorities, who said they had entered its territory illegally.

They were taken to the Phnom Penh municipal court under tight security in the morning for a hearing that was closed to the media, according to an AFP reporter. By mid-afternoon there was still no announcement by the court.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday the seven, who also include members of the royalist “Yellow Shirt” movement, would be charged and put in jail to await trial.

In an attempt to secure their release, the Thai foreign minister was due to travel to Cambodia to meet his counterpart later Thursday.

Cambodia must take into consideration that if they want cordial ties they should rely on negotiations. If not, then there is a problem for both sides,” Abhisit said.

Perhaps in future not to “complicate the issue” and to ensure that there is not a problem for both sides, the Cambodians will follow Thai military stance of shoot first per the Phnom Penh Post from December 23, 2010:

TWO Cambodian loggers were shot and killed along the border with Thailand on Monday, the same day Foreign Minister Hor Namhong called on his Thai counterpart to address the rash of shootings of Cambodians by Thai troops along the border in recent months.

The men were shot after setting off from Oddar Meanchey province’s Trapaing Prasat district and crossing into Thailand’s Sisaket province, said Touch Ra, deputy chief of the Cambodia-Thailand Border Relations Office at the Choam Sa-Ngam border checkpoint.

“They ventured deep into Thai territory in order to log,” he said. “They were logging in the protected forest of Thailand, so it [was] quite dangerous.”

The two men who were killed were part of a group of eight who crossed into Thailand; another group of 13 loggers crossed the border the same day, four of whom were arrested by Thai authorities and later released, Touch Ra added.

On Monday, Hor Namhong met with Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. Among other things, they discussed the shootings of Cambodian loggers by Thai border guards, and Hor Namhong said Kasit had agreed to press Thai authorities to be more lenient with Cambodian trespassers.

Monday’s incident marks the sixth shooting this year in which Cambodian loggers have been killed by Thai security forces, according to local rights group Adhoc. Last week, six Cambodian loggers who crossed from Trapaing Prasat into Thailand were injured in a shooting by Thai troops.

Of course, one of the reasons talking tough was that the PAD were not happy about the arrest per DPA:

Panthep said the arrests were ‘quite clearly’ in Thai territory and called on the Cambodian government to apologize for the incident.

‘Cambodia has tried to invade us and hold the territory that belongs to us,’ Panthep said.

While Abhisit was demanding, it then started to emerge that not only were the seven arrested Thais not on Thai soil or in in the disputed areas, but were clearly inside Cambodia as the Bangkok Post reports:

Assistant to the foreign minister Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said yesterday Thailand asked Cambodia to consider the case prudently as the seven Thais had no intention of encroaching on Cambodian territory.

Mr Chavanond said the two foreign ministers had examined evidence as well as the area where the Thais were arrested.

It was found the seven Thais had strayed about 1,200 metres into Cambodian territory. It was clearly marked as a Cambodian area, he said

Perhaps, saying that the PAD were not happy about the arrests is an understatement. The response by some members of the PAD to what Chavanond said didn’t show signs of backing down. Retired General Preecha Iamsuphan, and classmate of PAD leader Chamlong, has again (last time he did so on a PAD stage) called for war with Cambodia as ASTV Manager reports:

วันนี้(31 ธ.ค.) พล.อ.ปรีชา เอี่ยมสุพรรณ เพื่อนร่วมรุ่น พล.ต.จำลอง ศรีเมือง แกนนำพันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย กล่าวถึงกรณีที่ทหารกัมพูชา จับตัว 7 คนไทยไปว่า พื้นที่ที่ทหารกัมพูชา เข้ามาจับตัวคนไทยไปนั้นเป็นพื้นที่ของไทยอย่างแน่นอน การที่นายชวนนท์ อินทรโกมารสุต เลขานุการรมว.ต่างประเทศ เชื่อคำพูดของ นายฮอร์ นัมฮง รมต.ต่างประเทศกัมพูชา ว่าเป็นพื้นที่ของกัมพูชานั้น พูดแบบนี้เป็นพวกขายชาติ ถ้าเราเชื่อข้าศึกเราเสียเปรียบอย่างเห็นได้ชัด

[Today (Dec 31), Gen. Preecha Iamsuphan, a classmate of PAD leader Chamlong, stated in relation to the Cambodian military detaining 7 Thais that the area that the Cambodian soldiers entered to arrest the Thais was Thai territory for sure. By Assistant to the foreign minister Chavanond Intarakomalyasut believing the words of the Cambodian Foreign Minister that it was Cambodian territory is a traitorous act. If we believe the enemy then we lose advantage clearly.]

พล.อ.ปรีชา กล่าวว่า เวลานี้ นายฮุนเซนต้องการแสดงอธิปไตยเหนือดินแดนไทย เพื่อบอกกับคนทั่วโลกว่าไทยรุกล้ำดินแดนกัมพูชา ดังนั้นทหารไทยจะต้องรุกเอาดินแดนของไทยกลับคืนมา แต่ขณะนี้ทุกคนเอาตัวรอดเกิดความกลัวหรือมีผลประโยชน์ทับซ้อน จึงไม่มีใครกล้าขี้ขลาดกันหมด จริงๆทหารกินภาษีประชาชน กินเงินแผ่นดิน ไม่ต้องกลัวหรือให้ใครมาสั่งจัดการเองได้เลย ขณะนี้มีทางเดียวตอนนี้คือต้องรบ ทำสงครามสั่งสอนเขมร ในเมื่อเขมรเอาปืนขีดเส้นเขตแดน ไทยก็ต้องเอาปืนขีดเส้นเขตแดนกลับ ไล่ชาวเขมรออกไปทุกจุดให้หมดจากพื้นที่ดินแดนของไทยที่เขารุกล้ำเข้ามาและยึดคืน อาวุธยุทโธปกณ์ของเราก็มีเพียบพร้อมมากกว่าเขมร ในหลวงได้ให้พระราชดำรัสเมื่อวันที่ 5 ธ.ค.53 ที่ผ่านมา ให้ทุกภาคส่วนราชการทำหน้าที่ของตัวเองให้ถูกต้องและดีที่สุด อย่าประมาท ถ้าเราประมาทเราจะสูญเสียอธิปไตย บ้านเมืองเราถ้ามีผู้นำแบบนี้ชาติล่มจม ดีแต่แก้ปัญหาด้วยปาก ทำไม่รู้ร้อนรู้หนาว ไม่สนใจบ้านเมือง ดังนั้นรัฐบาลและทหารจะต้องดำเนินการเรื่องนี้ให้เร็วที่สุด

[Gen. Preecha stated that now Hun Sen wanted to show sovereignty over Thai territory so that he can tell the world community that Thailand encroaches on Cambodian soil. Therefore, Thai soldiers must invade to obtain the return of Thai territory, but as everyone is only [interested] in saving themselves there is fear or there are conflicts of interest. Thus, they are all afraid and are timid. The truth is that soldiers use taxpayer money, money of the land. They don’t need to be afraid or wait for orders to act. Now, there is only one answer, that is go to war. A battle to teach the Cambodians a lesson that when Cambodians take a gun over the Thai border then Thais need to take their guns over the Cambodian border in return. To chase off the Cambodians from all parts of Thai territory that they have encroached on so that it can be returned. We have better weapons than Cambodia. HM the King on December 5, 2010 gave an address that on all sectors of the government should undertake their duties correctly, to the best of their abilities, and not to be careless. If they are careless, we will lose sovereignty. For our country, if our leader is like this then there will be chaos. Just good at solving problems by words. Why doesn’t [he/they] know what is hot and what is cold. Not interested in the country. Therefore, the government and the military need to take actions as quickly as possible]

BP: For the comments on the article, the rated comments (i.e those with the most “thumbs up”) are in universal agreement with Gen. Preecha’s statements. Nevertheless, this is only Kasit’s Assistant… What about he-speaks-on-the-PAD-stage-Kasit? Subsequently, Foreign Minister Kasit finally concedes they were arrested on Cambodian soil as The Nation reports:

The seven Thais arrested by Cambodian officials on Wednesday for alleged illegal entry were found to have been on Cambodian soil during their arrest, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said yesterday.

He said that a survey by officials from the Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs and the Royal Thai Survey Department found that the group, which included Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth and yellow-shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid, were about a kilometre inside Cambodia.

The seven Thais had admitted to intruding into Cambodian soil when shown their actual position on the map and the video recording of their presence.

Also, Suthep is quoted in AFP a few days before this as admitting:

Deputy Thai premier Suthep Thaugsuban, however, acknowledged that the seven Thais were on Cambodian territory when arrested.

Panich and his entourage passed the border police checkpoint and border police followed them by car to ask them to return, but they were already on Cambodian soil,” he said.

On January 2, ASTV Manager had an article with the Foreign Ministry confirmation that the seven were on Cambodian soil. The article was entitled “กต.อ้างเช็กคลิปแล้วพบ “พนิช” ล้ำแดนจริง!! – ม็อบพระวิหารจ่อบุกสระแก้ว 4 ม.ค.” (MFA claims they checked the clip and Panich really encroached!! – Preah Vihear mob will go to Sa Kaeo on January 4). The article quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani as stating in response to a statement by the PAD spokesman Panthep that the government and foreign ministry had not come to their conclusion prematurely and that the video had been inspected completely and the security authorities also affirm that the seven did encroach (summarized from นายธานี กล่าวถึงกรณีที่ นายปานเทพ พัวพงษ์พันธุ์ โฆษกพันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย ระบุว่า รัฐบาลและกระทรวงการต่างประเทศ ด่วนสรุปเร็วเกินไป คนไทยทั้ง 7 คนรุกล้ำพื้นที่กัมพูชา ทั้งที่การพิสูจน์จากภาพวิดีโอยังไม่เสร็จสิ้นว่า จากการตรวจสอบเสร็จสิ้นไปแล้ว โดยเจ้าหน้าที่ของกระทรวงการต่างประเทศ และฝ่ายความมั่นคงยืนยันตรงกันว่า มีการรุกล้ำเข้าไปจริง โดยเป็นการพลัดหลงกัน).

BP: By the top-rated comments, the commenters are not pleased with Abhisit and the government over their response.

Even prior to the arrest of the seven there was real tension between the government and the PAD/ASTV Manager/New Politics Party over Preah Vihear/Thai-Cambodian border issues which had been rising to the surface over a period of months. In the middle of December, PAD released a booklet entitled 33 points on the Thai Kingdom about to lose land – it is displayed prominently on the PAD frontpage.  It also listed 20 points of difference between the Democrats and the PAD. Abhisit responded on December 25 on Facebook (yes, Facebook!) rebutting some of the points made by the PAD. The PAD then responded to Abhisit’s response. On this, see Don in the Bangkok Post:

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva got one very special Christmas present, one he was probably not counting on, thanks to the netizens of Facebook.

On Christmas day, Abhisit’s official Facebook page published a three-page, 33 point rebuttal to the Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy’s 33 points on the Pra Viharn/Prea Vihear temple issue. That was a bad mistake and whoever thought that Facebook diplomacy was the way forward might be wondering if he (or she) will still have a job come Monday morning.

A rough count of the 85 most recent comments saw 14 comments in favour of the Prime Minister, six neutral or off-topic and the remaining 65 against him, ranging from simple ridicule to calling him a traitor.

At about midnight, the Prime Minister’s page unleashed an attack comparing the government’s stand to the PAD, which was quickly swamped in comments only to be taken down in the wee hours of the morning and replaced with scanned images of text pages of the same. No, it was not taken down because of the comments, but rather whoever was writing it all down gave up and decided to upload the document as images instead.

The episode was an awakening in the immediacy of diplomacy in the digital, social media age. In the past, such a response would be conveyed by a spokesperson to a group of reporters or academics who would write up stories in a newspaper for people to read and form opinions on.

BP: It seems Abhisit can’t win.

Initially, when BP thought they were arrested on disputed territory – seriously how could Panich state they were on Thai soil and be so wrong – it seemed that Hun Sen was up to his old tricks of antagonizing the Abhisit government. Yes, Hun Sen couldn’t force the seven to the border, but if they were in a disputed area then the Cambodians could hardly arrest the seven Thais, but now it has been confirmed they were 1 kilometre on the Cambodian solider so many questions arise. 

Was Abhisit aware when he made his statements demanding Cambodia release the Thais that they were actually in Cambodian territory? Why did he send Panich on this fact-finding mission? Why then did Panich take the PAD activists with him? Why didn’t they alert and coordinate their visit with the Thai military?