Friday, January 21, 2011

Opinion: Thai Domestic Politics Internationalized at Expense of Cambodia

The trespassing of Thai politicians and agent provocateurs into Cambodia is not something which happened at the spur of the moment to visit Thai citizens who were supposedly facing hardship at the Cambodia-Thai border.
On the contrary, it was stage managed. Just a day before, a Thai court had postponed a verdict on the invasion of the TV station which was due on the 28th but was postponed for a couple of days to enable all the accused to be present. This was for yellow shirt activists who had invaded a television station in 2008.
So, what to do when you are a right-wing group in sight of losing its appeal? Well, always worth rolling out the old ‘call to patriotism’ that always stirs feelings and dulls brains.  The day after the postponement a group of seven Thai’s - including MP for Bangkok Panich Vikitsreth and a leading member of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Veera Somkwamkid - was arrested for trespassing on Cambodian soil.
According to the Thai account, the group was arrested on 29th December, 2010 while inspecting a border area near Ban Nong Jarn in Sa Kaeo's Khok Sung district. There is no surprise in this as this is typical and serial of the Thais to do one thing and claim or allege another.  Ancient Thai history is full of accounts of treachery and betrayal.
What is astonishing and unacceptable is the fact that nowhere is the area listed as a disputed area, until the trespassing took place. 
The Thai Patriots Network says the group was on Thai territory. It backed its fictitious and frivolous claim with land documents and receipts of tax payments.
Curious, since the Thai government and even the group of seven themselves admit that they were over a kilometre into Cambodian territory. Still, no reason to let the truth get in the way of a nice bit of warmongering.
Fortunately, sanity prevailed, at least on the Cambodian side. While poor Cambodians were shot or set on fire when they trespassed into Thailand for economic reasons, the Thai Politicians and agent provocateurs were merely arrested and put in front of the court to answer charges, first for blatant trespassing and then one of them for espionage – a serious offense in any country and is often subjected to severe punishment  or even capital punishment.
Now let us view the evidence:
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit admitted on the 14th of January that he sent Panich Vikritseth to inspect the disputed border between Thailand and Cambodia. However, far more interesting was the news of video footage posted to YouTube which implies that the PM had known the group was going into Cambodia.
"Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva knew Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth had intruded into Cambodian territory before Mr Panich and six other Thais were arrested by Cambodian soldiers, video footage posted on YouTube shows. "Please tell Somkiat to inform the prime minister that we are already inside Cambodia."
“Hello [name], are you there? Can you hear me clearly? In case we lose the signal here, call Somkiat, the PM’s secretary - because we’ll/I’ll will talk to him personally, anyways – tell Somkiat we’ve crossed the border into Cambodia, so we can coordinate it, in case something happens.
Tell him – we’re now on Cambodian territory! But don’t let anyone else know about it, only the PM knows!“
The above are clear and incontrovertible evidence of the ill intentions of the trespassers whose sole intent was to intrude into Cambodian territory, spy of Cambodian military installations, at least one of them, stir up blind emotions in Thailand, divert attention away from the rising red shirt dilemma, and reignite the Preah Vihear issue which has thawed significantly since both Prime Ministers had direct contact with each other.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister displayed astute wisdom, enormous patience, and utmost restraint in reacting in the same manner as the delirious and misinformed Thai citizens.
Given the past history between Cambodia and Thailand and how Cambodians have been treated inhumanely by the Thais, it would have been normal for Cambodia to have a knee-jerk reaction which didn’t happen. In fact, Cambodia showed political maturity and its political leadership was strong and had not got carried away with emotions. They decided immediately, under the wise leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow the Cambodian courts to take over the case and charge them according to the laws of the land, which also applies to Thailand and any other sovereign nation in the world. 
Cambodia’s position in letting the law takes its course was strengthened by the open admission of the Thai leadership, from the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Senior national and regional defense officials, provincial and also local officials who conceded the 7 Thais had indeed intruded deeply into sovereign Cambodian territory and had in fact, ignored warnings and calls for the seven trespassers to stop despite the efforts of the Thai military.
Instead of looking at the positives – Cambodian military did not react in the knee jerk manner like Thai border units who had indiscriminately opened fire or set Cambodian trespassers on fire. It would have been the right of the Cambodian military to do so as they have a sworn duty to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Cambodia whereas the Thais took what they thought was the political offensive by organizing demonstrations and making false and fabricated accusations and assertions.
There is without doubt overwhelming self incriminating evidence which are incontrovertible to implicate the 7 Thais without any doubt whatsoever, in any position, be it from a point of national law, international law, respect for the territorial integrity of nations and more importantly and alarmingly, the espionage activity of at least one or two of those who were arrested.
The Cambodian court was and is at the centre stage of this Thai stage managed political drama which is unfortunately as real as it gets, with screaming accused who vowed to fight to the end and other disgruntled utterrings.
The Thai Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand also made the right decision in calling for a press conference and acknowledging that Thailand  had to abide by Cambodian laws, just as Cambodians had to abide by Thai laws if the reverse were to happen and that it was the right full place of the court to decide as Cambodia’s Judiciary should and must be respected.
He also set, speaking after the release of  the four Thai nationals, (two were released earlier on bail)  that he accepted and acknowledged the decision of the court to release on bail, on the condition they do not leave Cambodia, and the continued detention of one Thai national.
He further elucidated that the process undertaken thus far, had not affected the bilateral relations between Thailand and Cambodia which is improving after a period of tension and border altercations.
What is key to this unfortunate and yet unprovoked episode is that Thailand had invariably acknowledged the sovereignty of Cambodia, the independence of the judiciary and that their seven nationals did indeed trespass into Cambodia.
It is also rather unfortunate that the detained agent provocateur is a serial trespasser who was dead set on pushing his luck with continuous intrusion into Cambodia and testing the patience and resolve of Cambodia and its establishments.
This individual deserves to be punished. Veera Somkwamkid’ deserves the maximum punishment which is unfortunately in Cambodia, not capital in nature and Cambodia is not a nation at war. It if was, there was only one punishment – death. Cambodians are fortunately not barbaric in nature and recognize international covenants, laws and treaties. It may have its deficiencies but it is not barbaric like its neighbor who torture and set on fire or shoot to kill trespassers who are nobody but poor peasants seeking economic opportunities.
This whole episode also shows maturity on both Cambodia and Thailand as it did not create a period of upheavals and tensions as in the past. It also did not put a dent on improving bilateral relations.  It also did not affect the Asean  region as a whole and Asean is on track to be the ASEAN Community by 2015.
At least, both nations decided at the onset to allow the law to take its course instead of resorting to virulent rhetoric ( on the part of Thailand), and tensions did not flare up, though emotions were high in Thailand, simply because of a sustained and stage managed campaign of misinformation and delusions.
Thai politicians at all levels, including activists and agent provocateurs should realize that when one is living in glass houses, one should not throw stones. To put it more bluntly, when one has a domestic and political agenda to stirring up patriotism and nationalism with a view of gaining political mileage, one should not involve a sovereign nation, especially one with them they have a thorny history.
By T. Mohan, a long term resident of Cambodia and political analyst

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