Panich admits bad planning led to detention in Cambodia


Poor preparation is partly to blame for the arrest of seven Thais, including himself, in Cambodia in late December, admits Bangkok MP Panich Vikitsreth.

Mr Panich and six other Thais were detained at Cambodia's Prey Sar prison for nearly a month.

Five of the seven, including Mr Panich, have been freed, after a Cambodian court suspended their jail terms for trespass.

The other two _ Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkhwamkid and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon _ were given six and eight years, respectively, in jail for espionage, an outcome Mr Panich suggests could have been avoided if he had taken more care.

After being freed, Mr Panich, a Democrat MP, visited the Thais whose concerns about border incursions by Cambodian trips prompted his trip in the first place.

At the time of his visit to the border area in Sa Kaeo, Mr Panich said he honestly believed that he was on Thai soil and he was unaware that Thai and Cambodian soldiers assume a line to divide their areas of operations there.

Mr Panich went there after receiving a complaint from Bay Pulsuk, a resident of tambon Khok Sung of Ta Phraya district, Sa Kaeo, that he could not enter his own 23-rai property because it was occupied by Cambodian soldiers.

Mr Panich said he contacted Samdin Lertbutr, a member of the Santi Asoke Buddhism sect, and asked him to take him to the area.

Mr Panich represents the constituency that includes Bung Kum district, where Santi Asoke's headquarters stands.

Mr Samdin asked Mr Panich to pick him and Tainae Mungmajon up at the Santi Asoke base.

Mr Samdin said he would first take Mr Panich to Prachin Buri.

Mr Panich reported his planned trip to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Mr Abhisit agreed with the trip and said Mr Panich should be there because it was an MP's duty and Mr Panich was also a member of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission.

When Mr Panich met Mr Samdin and Mr Tainae, Mr Samdin asked him to pick up the other Thais _ Mr Veera, Ms Ratree and Narumol Chitwaratana.

Mr Panich said he had not previously known the three and he picked them up at the Rong Klua market in Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo.

Mr Samdin wanted Mr Veera to join the trip as he is knew the area. The two women were Mr Veera's aides.

When Cambodian soldiers arrested his delegation, including Kojpollathorn Chusanasevi, Mr Panich's aide, they took the Thais to a pond near their camp.

Cambodian soldiers confiscated their cameras and phones and had them wait there for hours, said Mr Panich.

Ms Ratree pulled out a small camera which had not been confiscated by the authorities and took pictures.

Ms Ratree used this camera as the Cambodian soldiers had taken their other belongings, and Thai authorities summoned there to help them were about to take the delegation back.

Mr Panich held another phone, which had also been overlooked by the Cambodians, which he used to take a picture of Mr Samdin.

Mr Panich said Ms Ratree had just happened to snap a photo at an inappropriate time, but that she only intended to do so to have a souvenir.

The delegation was taken by vehicle to Phnom Penh, a seven-hour trip.

They reached the Cambodian capital at 11pm on Dec 29, when Cambodian authorities took all their remaining belongings, including the camera in Ms Ratree's bag.

The following morning, they were taken to the Phnom Penh municipal court.

Mr Veera told the court that the small camera belonged to him but Ms Ratree told the court on a separate occasion that the camera belonged to her, as she apparently was seeking to protect Mr Veera.

The seven Thais each faced two charges of illegal immigration and illegal entry into a military compound.

By the following day, the Thais were told to put on prisoners' outfits, and Mr Veera and Ms Ratree each faced an additional charge of espionage.

Mr Panich said Cambodian authorities based the third charge against Mr Veera and Miss Ratree on the presence of the camera and the disparity in accounts about who owned it.

Mr Panich said Mr Veera had previously told him that the camera did not work.

That was why Mr Veera shouted to reporters that he had been unfairly charged, because he said he had no intention of spying.

"If Mr Veera [and Miss Ratree] had [only] faced the same charges as me, they would now be free," said Mr Panich.

"They would have been sentenced to nine months in jail, suspended.

"I sympathise with Miss Ratree. She was about to be freed along with the other five of us, but she has faith in Mr Veera and did not want to leave him," Panich said. "We signed a petition for our cases to be finalised as soon as possible but Mr Veera and Miss Ratree signed statements saying they would defend themselves on Feb 1."

The Democrat MP said that while he had told the prime minister about his trip on the day of their arrest, he had neglected to tell Thai security authorities.

Mr Veera had incorrectly assumed that Mr Panich had informed security authorities.

Mr Panich said the jail terms imposed on Mr Veera and Miss Ratree were too harsh.

"I intended to find out why a villager could not enter his own land," he said.

"I thought that if we met Cambodian soldiers at the site, we would still be able to return," Mr Panich said. "I did not expect it would turn out this way.

"Mr Veera understood that I had already spoken to authorities about the trip, clearing it advance.

"Actually I had not. I just wanted to see the villager's land," Mr Panich said.

ASEAN chairman to visit Cambodia soon: government


PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) - Indonesian Foreign Minister R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa, who is also the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will pay a one-day official visit to Cambodia soon, according to a press release from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Saturday afternoon.

It said that during his stay in Phnom Penh, he will hold a bilateral talks with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

The statement did not disclose if his visit to Cambodia will discuss about the military clashes between Cambodia and Thailand at the border area near Preah Vihear temple, in his status as the chairman of the ASEAN.

The twice skirmishes on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning between the two neighbors left dozens of troops and locals of the two countries killed and injured.

Koy Kuong, the spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, could not be reached for comments on Saturday.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008. Just a week after the enlistment, Cambodia and Thailand have had border conflict due to Thai claim of the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the temple, triggering a military build-up along the border, and periodic clashes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers have resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.

Thailand, Cambodia Reach Ceasefire Agreement After Cross Border Firing

Cambodian soldiers sit at Preah Vihear temple after a brief clash with Thai troops, February 05, 2011
Photo: Reuters

Cambodian soldiers sit at Preah Vihear temple after a brief clash with Thai troops, February 05, 2011

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Thailand and Cambodia agreed to a ceasefire Saturday after renewed fighting in a disputed border region killed at least one soldier.

A tentative ceasefire appeared to be holding late Saturday after Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged artillery fire along their shared border.

Military officials from the two countries blamed each other for the outbreak of hostilities, the first in the region resulting in fatalities in a year.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says the military has specific rules of engagement that were also communicated to Cambodia.

"We have instructed the military to respond only when attacked to specific military targets only, and the Prime Minister asked the officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to communicate this intention clearly to Cambodia,” Panitan said. “The Prime Minister also hopes that we can continue to work with Cambodia in achieving a peaceful solution. Only we regret that we have casualties on both sides."

Fighting broke out late Friday near the 900 year old Preah Vihear temple in a disputed area near the Thai-Cambodia border.

The fighting is the latest flare-up between the neighboring nations over the disputed land and control of the ancient Hindu temple.

Both Cambodia and Thailand have laid claim to the temple. A 1962 World Court ruling awarded it to Cambodia, which also successfully had the temple declared a World Heritage site in 2008. But the exact border near the temple has never been settled, leading to periodic skirmishes.

Tensions have risen in recent days because of demonstrations by influential Thai nationalist groups demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take a tougher stance in the border dispute.

Political observers say the clashes mark a setback in steps to promote a wider political security and community grouping within the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Both Thailand and Cambodia are ASEAN members.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan expressed deep concern over the conflict, calling for and end to the violence and a return to negotiations. Surin said both sides appeared open to some form of mediation by ASEAN.

Shaky truce after fresh fighting


Thailand is cranking up pressure on Cambodia over the disputed Preah Vihear temple, even as a shaky ceasefire holds after the worst border fighting in two years claimed at least five lives.

SOLDIER FALLS: The flag-draped body of Sgt Wutcharin Chartkhamdee, who was killed in the border clashes, arrives at Wat Siriwarawat in Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district.

The government reached a ceasefire with Cambodia yesterday after a resumption of border clashes in the morning killed one Thai soldier, taking the Thai toll to two.

Cambodia has said two of its soldiers and one civilian were killed when fighting broke out on Friday, while Thailand said a villager on its side of the border also died.

The resumption of fighting has sent thousands of people living near the border fleeing for safety, and villagers on both sides have been evacuated.

As Cambodia yesterday released four Thai rangers seized when the clashes broke out on Friday, reports emerged that the Preah Vihear temple may have been damaged.

SCHOOL CLOSED: The roof of a school in Si Sa Ket damaged by shells allegedly fired by Cambodian troops.

Television footage showed smoke plumes rising near the temple, which according to Cambodia suffered "serious" damage in the fighting.

Both sides are now taking their case to international tribunals, which could further ratchet up tension along the border.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday the government would seek the suspension of Preah Vihear temple's listing as a Unesco World Heritage site following the flare-up.

The government would also submit a letter to the United Nations Security Council "clarifying" the border clashes.

"I'm asking Thais to support the armed forces in protecting the country's sovereignty," he said, adding that the army would never invade its neighbour.

In Bangkok, a few thousand supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy gathered near Government House calling on the government to resign for its handling of the Cambodia issue.

Mr Abhisit said the clashes show the border issue is sensitive and any move which could exacerbate tensions should be avoided.

Unesco's World Heritage Committee is scheduled to consider the temple's world heritage listing plan, and a development plan for the surrounding area, at a June meeting in Bahrain.

The prime minister conveyed his condolences to the families of the clash victims and said Thai soldiers were simply defending the country's sovereignty after Cambodian troops opened fire on a Thai military base in the Phu Ma Khua area of Si Sa Ket on Friday.

The renewed gunfire yesterday morning killed one soldier and wounded four others. An exchange of heavy artillery shelling on Friday afternoon left one Thai villager dead and scores of troops injured.

Thai soldiers said the morning clash took place near Huay Ta Maria village when Cambodian forces advanced towards the village and opened fire.

Thai troops retaliated and fighting broke out at two nearby locations of Ban Don-aow pass and a former border patrol base near Pha Mor E-dang.

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the renewed fighting killed Sgt Wutcharin Chartkhamdee and left four other soldiers injured.

"We held onto our positions. When Cambodian troops advanced to occupy them, fighting was inevitable," he said.

Second Army commander Lt Thawatchai Samutsakhon led a delegation to meet Cambodia's Military Region 4 commander Lt Gen Chea Mon.

Following the three-hour talks, both sides agreed to stop firing, not to increase their forces in the disputed area, and improve coordination between unit commanders.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya briefed foreign diplomats from 16 countries, after his ministry on Friday said Cambodian troops opened fire from the Preah Vihear temple area at the Thai military, and Phum Saron village.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has written to the United Nations to draw its attention to the "explosive situation at the border".

In a letter to UN Security Council president Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, he said Cambodian troops had no option but to retaliate in response to "flagrant aggression" by Thai troops.

Col Sansern yesterday admitted the army had reinforced troops and artillery at the border.

Meanwhile, Unesco director-general Irina Bokova expressed her deep concern at the sudden escalation of border tensions.

She called upon both sides to exercise restraint for the sake of the temple and to talk at the highest levels to defuse the tension.

Thai, Cambodian troops in deadly clash near temple

A house burns in a Thai village near a 11th-century Preah Vihear temple at the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 4, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer


BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged fire in a two-hour border clash on Friday that killed two Cambodian soldiers and a Thai villager, the latest in an ancient feud over land surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

The fatalities were the first in the militarised border area since a Thai soldier was shot dead a year ago and could rekindle diplomatic tensions between the Southeast Asian neighbours over the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Cambodia would file a complaint with the U.N. Security Council, accusing Thailand of invading Cambodian territory.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in the 4.6-sq-km (two-sq-mile) disputed area around Preah Vihear, a jungle-clad escarpment claimed by both countries and scene of deadly, sporadic clashes in recent years.

Several Thai soldiers were also wounded and four Thai villages were evacuated, Thai media reported. Five Thai soldiers were captured, said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

"It seems to have been a result of a misunderstanding," Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters. "There is no point in fighting because it could escalate and damage relations... We don't want that."

The Cambodian government accused the Thai army of targeting Cambodian villagers and said the fighting erupted when Thai soldiers illegally entered Cambodia territory.

"We said to them 'don't come in the area' and they still came. We fired into the air and they began to shoot at us," said Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.


The clash comes three days after a Cambodian court handed down jail terms of six and eight years to two Thai nationalists found guilty of trespassing and spying in the border region, a verdict that has angered some in Thailand.

Shelling began at about 3 p.m. (8:00 a.m. British time) and continued into early evening. Artillery shells landed at several villages on the Thai side, setting at least four houses on fire, witnesses said.

A Thai police colonel, Chatchawan Kaewchandee, said at least one villager was killed during the shelling. "We found one body of a male villager and there might be more," he said.

The fighting could give a boost to a small but prolonged protest by Thailand's "yellow shirt" activists demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva take a tougher line against Cambodia.

Chamlong Srimuang, a yellow shirt leader, said his group would step up pressure on the government, saying the fighting showed that Abhisit was weak in handling border tensions.

"We have warned about this sort of thing for a long time. We didn't call for a clash just for the government to show our military strength precisely to prevent any clash from taking place," he told reporters.

2 die as Thai, Cambodian troops battle at border

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodian and Thai troops battled for two hours Friday along a disputed stretch of their shared border, trading artillery fire that killed at least two people near an 11th century temple that is a UN World Heritage Site.

The fighting was some of the fiercest in years between the two southeast Asian countries. Tensions between the neighbors have been exacerbated in recent days by pressure from powerful Thai nationalist groups, which have been staging protests in Bangkok urging the government to reclaim the land.

While a cease-fire was quickly reached and full-blown war unlikely, the territorial dispute remains volatile, with nationalist passions inflamed on both sides — and no clear way to settle it.

One Thai villager was killed and four Thai troops were slightly injured, Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said. In Cambodia, privately owned Bayon TV reported that one Cambodian soldier was killed and five were wounded.

Fighting breaks out between Thai and Cambodian troops (1st Lead)

Feb 4, 2011


Bangkok/Phnom Penh - The Thai military said Friday that Cambodian forces had fired artillery rounds into Thailand near Preah Vihear temple on the joint border, while the Cambodian side blamed Thai troops.

Thai radio reports said an estimated 20 shells landed on Thailand's side of the border in Kantalarak district in Si Sa Ket province, 350 kilometres east of Bangkok.

'We can confirm that there has been a clash, but we are still checking the details,' said army spokesman Colonel Sansern Keowkhamnerd.

The Thai army was reportedly bulldozing a road in the border area, which has been the subject of numerous spats over the past two and a half years.

A spokesman for the Cambodian government blamed fighting on Thai troops.

Phay Siphan claimed Thai soldiers had crossed 500 metres into Cambodian territory and opened fire despite the efforts of Cambodian troops to avoid violence.

He said fighting had begun at 3 pm (0800 GMT) and was ongoing more than an hour later.

Phay Siphan said fighting was underway near Keo Sikha Kirisvara temple, which Thailand claims stands on disputed territory.

There was no word on casualties.

Bangkok recently insisted that Cambodia remove a flag flying over the temple, a demand that Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong rejected earlier on Friday after a meeting with his Thai counterpart.

The clashes come hours after Hor Namhong and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya wrapped up a meeting stating that a recent build-up of troops would not lead to violence.

Thai and Cambodian forces have faced off along the mountain range around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple since July 2008, when UNESCO declared the edifice a World Heritage Site despite Thai objections.

Although the World Court in 1962 ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia, Thailand claims a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjacent to the temple, and has blocked Cambodian's efforts to turn the site into a tourism attraction until the border dispute is settled.

Troops exchange fire on Thai-Cambodia border

A Cambodian flag flutters at the Preah Vihear temple
Cambodia secured the World Heritage listing of the ancient Preah Vihear temple in 2008

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Thai and Cambodian soldiers have exchanged fire on a disputed stretch of their border near an ancient Hindu temple, claimed by both countries.

A Thai military spokesman confirmed that "sporadic shelling" had taken place in the disputed zone.

Tension has been rising in the region in recent days - with both sides moving in more troops.

It is the latest in a series of shooting incidents in the Preah Vihear region over the past three years.

A Cambodian government spokesman told the BBC that the shooting started at about 1500 local time (0800 GMT).

He blamed the encroachment of Thai soldiers on Cambodian territory for the fighting - and said a similar incident had only narrowly been avoided on Thursday.

Witnesses in the area said that Thai troops had attacked a Cambodian Buddhist pagoda in a border area claimed by both sides.

There has been tension in the region ever since Cambodia secured the World Heritage listing of the ancient Preah Vihear temple in 2008.

This caused joy in Cambodia, and anguish in Thailand - which once claimed the temple.

This week there has been a build-up of troops and armoured vehicles along the border, as both sides have accused one another of encroachment.

Cambodian, Thai troops exchange gunfire at border area

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- Clash between Cambodian and Thai troops near the 11th century temple was still on at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and the Cambodian troops have arrested 5-6 Thai troops, said military sources.

"Now, we have arrested 5-6 Thai troops and some raised hands to defect," said a soldier standby at the area of Preah Vihear temple. "Thai side has asked us to do negotiation."

Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh told Xinhua through phone on Friday that "We have warned them not to enter our territory, but they still violated and entered, so we opened fire to defend our territory."

He added that heavy weapons including rockets, machine guns, mortars and artillery have been used in the exchange of fire.

"It's too early to report about the deaths and wounds in the clash," said Tea Banh.

The clash started at 3:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon as Thai bulldozers tried to clear the way at the border and enter Cambodia territory and Cambodian troops prevented them from moving into Cambodia at Beehive area in front of Preah Vihear temple, but they did not listen to, "so military clash happened to protect our territory," said the soldier.

The incident was the latest in a long-festering dispute over the cliff-top Preah Vihear temple.

The incident coincided with the visit of Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in Cambodia to attend the 7th meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation.

The re-tension between Cambodia and Thailand over the border happened on Jan. 27 after Thailand asked Cambodia to remove a national flag over Wat Keo Sikha Kiri Svarak pagoda near Preah Vihear temple, claiming that the pagoda is on the disputed area, but the Cambodian side rejected it.

Cambodia has the Preah Vihear temple enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008. Just a week after the enlistment, Cambodia and Thailand had border conflict over the Thai claim of ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the temple, triggering a military build-up along the border, and periodic clashes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers have resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.


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