Friday, December 30, 2011

Freedom chance for PAD activists

: Cambodia has offered to exchange high-profile jailed Thai activists Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaibun with Cambodian prisoners in Thailand.
Hor Namhong: No royal pardon
The offer was raised during talks between Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Mr Surapong was on his two-day official visit to the Cambodian capital to prepare for the joint commission meeting to which Thailand will play host on Feb 29 and March 1.
During the joint press conference after a one-hour meeting, Hor Namhong said Mr Surapong raised the issue of the two Thai activists.
He said he told his Thai counterpart that Cambodian law requires prisoners to serve at least two-thirds of their jail term before a royal pardon could be requested.
"Cambodia will consider the Thai proposal [to give a royal pardon to both Thais] if Thailand will accept to exchange them with a group of Cambodian prisoners jailed in Thailand," Hor Namhong said.
Veera, a co-leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), and Ratree, who is his secretary, have been in jail for one year.
The two were found guilty by a Cambodian court of espionage and illegal entry to Cambodia and were sentenced to eight and six years in jail respectively. The two were caught along with a group of Thai nationals while investigating a border dispute at the Thai-Cambodian border in Sa Kaeo province.
Five others people were also arrested but later were released. They included former Democrat MP Panich Vikitseth and PAD activists Samdin Lertbutr and Tainae Mungmajon.
The other two Thais who were among the arrested were identified only as Uan and Sab.
Mr Surapong said Thailand has never exchanged prisoners with any Asean members before and if it was to do this, the Cambodian prisoners wishing to join the programme must express their intentions through the Thai government.
"We have to study the Thai law thoroughly and have to consult with related agencies whether we can do it," Mr Surapong said.
He said he had ordered the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh to study the details with Cambodia too.
Veera's mother Wilaiwan, 73, who travelled to Phnom Penh to attend the hearing of the Appeal Court on Wednesday and to visit her son, said she was concerned about the Cambodian proposal but was confident that the Thai government would find ways to help Veera and Ratree.
"After my son confirmed with the court that he and Ratree would not appeal, I think that Veera and Ratree might be free today and return to Thailand with me. I hope that Mr Surapong can ask for a royal pardon," Mrs Wilaiwan said.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry will resubmit the 2001 memorandum of understanding (MoU) to the cabinet after the New Year for consideration as to whether the revoked agreement with Cambodia is still needed.
Minister Surapong said the Legal and Treaties Affairs Department was collecting views from legal experts and academics who have brainstormed for ideas since November.
"If the cabinet agrees to bring back the 2001 MoU, I will ask for a negotiation framework from the parliament under Article 190 of the constitution. I will do everything transparently and openly," Mr Surapong said.
Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya revoked the 2001 MoU in 2009 after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as his adviser.
The scrapping of the MoU has yet to take effect because Thailand has not officially informed Cambodia about it.
Hor Namhong told reporters that the MoU would pave the way for Cambodia and Thailand to resolve overlapped offshore border boundaries and could lead to the two nations enjoying the benefits of the natural resources in the maritime territory, which is rich with oil and natural gas.
"Cambodia does not want anything more than a fair share of its benefit from this agreement," Hor Namhong said.
"It's good news that Mr Surapong is also the chairman of a committee responsible for negotiating with Cambodia on the overlapped territory."