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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        2 February 2011

Two Thais found guilty by Cambodian court

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Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday today sentenced two Thai nationals, including a senior yellow shirt activist, to lengthy jail terms in a high-profile case that has strained diplomatic ties between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

In a day-long hearing today, Judge Suos Sam Ath found Veera Somkwamkid, a leader of the Thailand Patriot Network, and his secretary Ratree Taiputana Taiboon guilty of espionage, illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base.

Veera, 53, was sentenced to eight years in jail and ordered to pay 1.8 million riel (about US$444) in fines, while Ratree received a six-year prison term.

In handing down his verdict, Suos Sam Ath rejected an earlier request from the defendants that the case be reinvestigated.

"The court found that they entered Cambodia illegally, entered a military base with ill-will and collected information which could damage the national defence," Suos Sam Ath told the court. "The court decided not to consider the request from the defendants for the reinvestigation of the case, since it has enough evidence to prosecute the accused."

During the hearing, Veera remained defiant, dismissing the charges against him and claiming that he was arrested on Thai soil.

"I didn't have any intention to visit the military base or to cause disaster for the neighbouring country. The court is listening only to the Cambodian side without considering my comment so it is unjust for me," he told the judges.

"I request the court to reinvestigate at the border, then I will pay the expense. If the court finds it is Cambodian land, then I would accept the mistake, though I still stand firm on my view that it is Thai land."

Following the verdict, police escorted the pair into a police truck that took them to Prey Sar prison.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Pich Vicheka, a Cambodian lawyer representing the two defendants, said he would discuss with his clients whether to file an appeal. He declined to comment on the court's verdict.

The two Thais were part of a group of seven who were arrested on December 29 in Banteay Meanchey's O'Chrou district, claiming they were investigating the demarcation of the two countries' shared border.

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