Jail terms suspended in surprise ruling
Five of the seven Thais charged with trespassing on Cambodian territory have been freed after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court gave each of them a suspended jail term.
The three-member judge panel yesterday found each of the five Thais _ Panich Vikitsreth, Narumol Chitwaratana, Samdin Lertbutr, Tainae Mungmajon, and Kojpollathorn Chusanasevi _ guilty on two counts of trespassing on Cambodian territory and illegal entry into a military area.
The judges said the five had entered Cambodia deliberately and sentenced them to nine months' imprisonment and a fine of one million riel (around 7,590 baht) each.
However, as the Thais had already served almost one month in Prey Sar prison, the court decided to suspend the remaining eight months.
The seven Thais were arrested on Dec 29 as they investigated claims by Thai residents living along a disputed part of the border that Cambodian military officers would not allow them to enter the areas where their homes were located.
The five Thais are now free to go home, but they will have to serve their jail terms if they enter Cambodia illegally again, the court said.
Upon leaving court to travel to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, Mr Panich, who wore a blue cap with the Asean logo, said that the whole affair showed ``the spirit of Asean''.
``I would like to thank all concerned parties. [The verdict] is a good sign for the Asean community and shows the Cambodian court has mercy,'' he said.
The verdict date was moved forward from the original schedule of Feb 1 to yesterday after the five Thais petitioned the court to speed up the proceedings.
The court read out the verdict at 7.35pm after a five-hour hearing.
The five Thais testified that they had no intention of trespassing on Cambodian soil and did not realise that they had done so.
Mr Panich told the court that the group met a villager, but did not talk, so he did not know that he was already inside Cambodia.
The Democrat MP also denied recording or taking photos of the area. He said he only had a mobile phone without a built-in camera.
A verdict has not yet been passed on the cases of Veera Somkwamkid, a Thai Patriots Network coordinator, and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon.
Mr Veera and Ms Ratree face allegations that they spied on Cambodian military affairs and have been charged with espionage.
Mr Veera has been denied bail and remains at Prey Sar prison.
Ms Ratree was granted bail and is staying at the Thai embassy.
Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the Thai foreign minister, said the five Thais are expected to return home today(saturday).
Mr Chavanond will fly to Phnom Penh to meet them.
``We will try to bring them home as soon as possible,'' he said, adding that the verdict was good news and that the ministry would continue to help Mr Veera and Ms Ratree as best as it can.
Mr Chavanond said the verdict for the two is likely to be handed down on Feb 1.
Mr Panich's mother, ML Sompongvadee Vikitsreth, said she was glad the case was finally over and that she could see her son soon.
Mr Panich talked to his mother on the phone after the verdict.
Soonthorn Rakrong, coordinator of the Thai Patriots Network, congratulated the five Thais on being granted their freedom.
``However, it would be better if Mr Veera and Ms Ratree had been released too,'' he said.
The network has been staging a rally at Government House since Sunday to pressure the Abhisit Vejjajiva government to do more to help the seven Thais.
The group will announce their next move after the release of the Thais today(saturday).
Meanwhile, People's Alliance for Democracy spokesman Panthep Phuaphongphan said his group will continue with its plan to hold a mass rally on Tuesday to persuade the government to revoke the memorandum of understanding signed in 2000 between Thailand and Cambodia, which they say is disadvantageous to the country.
They also want the government to force Cambodian people out of every disputed area and are requesting Thailand withdraws its membership of the Unesco's World Heritage Committee.