Thursday, January 27, 2011

Arrested Thai MP maintains innocence over border dispute

Panich Vikitsreth
Fri, 28 Jan 2011
Ron Corben, Bangkok
Radio Australia News

A Thai parliamentarian charged with illegal entry into Cambodia, believes he is innocent and was in Thai territory at the time.

Panich Vikitsreth was one of seven Thais detained by Cambodian border guards on December 29, when they say they were investigating claims of Cambodian land encroachment.

The arrest, jail and court hearings have tested Thai-Cambodian relations, already strained by a dispute over claims surrounding the 900 year old Preah Vihear temple.

Panich, who spent 16 days in jail, has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program he remains convinced he is innocent and had not crossed beyond the disputed area into Cambodian territory.

"I always believed that I'm somewhere in Thailand, actually somewhere close to the border area, and where there is a disputed area, but I didn't expect that I was in another country," he said.

"I still believe today that I'm not in another country. But it's an area where of course there are disputes."

Critical local media comment followed the group's initial arrest, and this was exacerbated when You Tube footage purported to show the group crossing into Cambodia.

In footage based on the group's cameras Panich is seen walking towards Cambodia talking on a mobile phone for his secretary to inform Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of their whereabouts.

Panich claims the footage has been doctored and re-edited.

"What surprised me most is that the whole footage of 23 minutes they mix the sequence," he said.

"The sequence was wrong. I don't know how you want to put it but the sequence was wrong. It started off half way and then it came back to the beginning and then it went to the later part of our trip."

A joint boundary commission or JBC between Thailand and Cambodia works under a 2000 memorandum of understanding to establish the location of the border between the two countries.

But the Thai Patriot Network protesting in Bangkok wants the government to annul the MOU and reclaim the land, even by use of force.

Thailand and Cambodia exchanged fire in 2008 and 2009 over cross border claims that resulted in casualties.

Panich says he wants to see greater diplomatic efforts to clarify the Thai - Cambodian border.

"Definitely what we want to see is no use of force - no use of military confrontation," he said.

"The best is to settle it on the table and to get this boundary across nearly 800 kilometres sorted out. So this is now in the process of this JBC which is going on right now."


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