By Saksith Saiyasombut
Last week, seven Thais were arrested by Cambodian authorities for allegedly crossing the border into Cambodian territory illegally (check out previous coverage by fellow Siam Voices writer Thorn Pitidol and at Bangkok Pundit). Among the detained are Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth and PAD-affiliated activists Samdin Lertbutr and Veera Somkwamkit. The latter is the leader of the Thai Patriot Network (TPN), known for its activities concerning the border issue, so much so it even got him into conflict with the PAD leaders themselves.
More details emerge about the circumstances of the arrest with the most important question being whether the men where (aware to be) on Cambodian territory or not. Three videos have appeared on YouTube (with no knowledge how the videos have been leaked, since the Cambodians must have seized everything) showing the men walking through the border region. In two of the videos, Panich is seen talking on the phone to someone.
“พนิช บุกรุกเขมรอภิสิทธิ์รู้ดี“, video by 2011galet
Translated transcript of Panich’s phone call (starting at 1:10 min):
“Hello [name], are you there? Can you hear me clearly? In case we lose the signal here, call Somkiat, the PM’s secretary – because we’ll/I’ll will talk to him personally, anyways – tell Somkiat we’ve crossed the border into Cambodia, so we can coordinate it, in case something happens. Tell him – we’re now on Cambodian territory! But don’t let anyone else know about it, only the PM knows!“
The PM should know about this since, he ordered him to investigate the region.
The second video shows a local talking to the men and again we see Panich talking on the phone. Whether it is the same person or even the same phone call as in the video above is not possible to determine.
“พนิช วิกิตวิเศรษฐ์คุยกับชาวเขมร“, video by 2011galet
Translated transcript of Panich’s phone call (starting at 0:38 min):
“…tell him we’ve crossed. We’ll try to get to point 46 [46th boundary monument], which is on the Thai side, but is inhabited by Cambodians.”
A third video shows the men wandering around and discussing about the territory, before being apprehended by Cambodians.
“คลิป พนิช เข้ากัมพูชา“, video by gigcode
Veera (the man holding a video camera, pointing at the concrete pole): “This fence here is Thai ground.”
Unseen staff member: “If we cross here, then we’re in Cambodia?”
Veera: “This is Thai territory, but they [the Cambodians] have claimed this for themselves. They have claimed it based on the 1:200.000 map. Thais can walk up to this point, if they cross it here, it’s [still] Thai, that’s an old Thai village over there, but the Cambodians have seized it all.”
Panich: “Now it’s full of Cambodians?”
Veera: “Yes, full of Cambodians! Let’s go, if we go there, we’ll get arrested for sure!” (group walks off)
Unseen staff member: “The border police will come…they will follow us.”
Panich: “Our soldiers don’t dare to come here?”
Veera: “If we get caught, the border police will come and help us out.”
All: “Ah, here they come! They come in many. The soldiers are coming…”
Panich: “Are these their [Cambodian] troops?”
Veera: “Police Lieutenant Colonel Sawat, the one who helped me once, he insists that this Thai territory. […] So, if we get caught, he’ll help us” […]
[Scene with Panich phone calls, the same as in the clips above]
[Scene at 2:15 shows them walking and Veera noting that they are now in Ban Nong Jarn (บ้านหนองจาน) and that they’ll probably be arrested soon]
[Scene beginning 2:45 shows the group being stopped by a Cambodian man, possibly a soldier?]
[3:11, another man on a motorcycle arriving]
Cambodian man 1 (in Thai): One month ago there was no problem.
Thai group member: But this month there is a problem?
Cambodian man 1: You haven’t told that you’d come…
Thai group member: Told whom?
Cambodian man 2: The police, the Thai border police…!
[The rest is entirely in Cambodian, some bits the author understood included along the lines of “We can talk about it” etc.]
Now, it is difficult to draw conclusions from these clips without the context. The clips do not show where exactly the group has been arrested. Furthermore, we haven’t seen much of the locals – the one lady doesn’t give much away. And how were the clips leaked? Nevertheless, some questions arise though: Was Prime Minister Abhisit aware of the group going entering Cambodian soil? Where was the Thai border police this time, if Veera claims to be certain that they would help? Was a deliberate attempt by the group to be arrested, since Veera was certain on that point as well? And ultimately, was the group on Cambodian territory or not when they were arrested?
In related news, there has been much action because of this in Bangkok as well. First off there was the admission (we can’t talk about a confirmation per se) by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep that the group was on Cambodian soil. Then there was the rest of the TPN unsurprisingly up in arms about the arrest, so much so that they want the UN to help. And in the most recent developments, the TPN announces to protest at the border. As expected, the Thai authorities have declared the area a no-go zone. The TPN has led a similar protest in September 2009 at the border in Srisaket province, which in ended in clashes with police and locals. Also, in the latest absurd turn of events, TPN core-leader Chaiwat Sinsuwong blames defense minister Prawit Wongsuwon to have tipped off Cambodian troops to have the seven men arrested. The cynic in me says that the PAD must be delighted with the arrest of the seven men, since they would otherwise have nothing to protest on January 25 (except for some charter amendments maybe).