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THIS IS THAILAND
A Week in Review: January 29 - February 4, 2011


...or is it?

Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: we’ve had a real filmfest in Thailand (and Cambodia) over the last seven days. Read more here…

Tensions over disputed Thai-Cambodian border territories were further heightened last week when a Cambodian court sentenced Veera Somkhwamkid of the ultra-nationalist Thai Patriots Network (TPN) to an eight-year jail term on charges of espionage. His secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon also received a sentence of six years.

Veera and Ratree were part of a group of 7 Thais who were arrested by Cambodian authorities for trespassing in a disputed border area on December 29 last year. While the pair contend that they were still in Thailand when they were arrested, the fact remains that they were deliberately agitating an already tense situation by making a big show of entering a sensitive area.

While the other 5 Thais in their group bit the bullet, pleaded guilty and returned home to Thailand after receiving suspended sentences, Veera and Ratree set themselves out as martyrs for the national cause by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the charges against them.

Unimpressed by what it perceived as contemptuous defiance, the Cambodian court took a hard line with the pair. The severity of the sentencing came as no great surprise – especially as Veera had been arrested by the Cambodians for the same offence once before.

Speaking to reporters after being sentenced, Veera continued in his role of rebel without a just cause by announcing that he did not accept the ruling – a stance that was echoed by leading TPN and PAD figures back in Thailand.
 
While refusing to enter into dialogue with the government in a bid to solve the whole sorry episode, the PAD and TPN continued to make unreasonable demands. PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang led the way by insisting that the Thai government bring Veera and Ratree home within 3 days.

While the contempt with which Chamlong and his fellow cronies view Cambodia is plain for all to see, it is less than clear whether he is actually aware that Cambodia is in fact an independent country with its own judicial system.

Cambodia may be viewed as an inferior nation by nationalistic Thais such as Chamlong, but that does not make it answerable to its slightly more developed neighbour. Even if it were, a government should have no power to influence or overturn a verdict imposed by the judiciary.

In reference to the PAD’s 193-day occupation of Government House in 2008, Chamlong rallied his supporters ahead of a possible new occupation by announcing last week that “no-one knows Government House like me”. However, the aging Major General seems to be increasingly less-well acquainted with the rest of the real world.

Having been spotted last week smiling inanely while riding around the PAD demonstration site without a helmet on a disability scooter, Chamlong is not so much the easy rider that he seems to think he is, but rather flying over the cuckoo’s nest.

Meanwhile, fully aware that dialogue is the only way to solve this issue, the Thai and Cambodian governments have been holding meetings in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap – a somewhat unfortunate choice of venue considering that its name translates as ‘Thailand defeated’ in honour of a battle that took place there.

Nevertheless, the talks appeared to have been fruitful when Thai foreign minister Kasit announced on Friday that the two countries had reached certain agreements that would allow for a peaceful conclusion to the border issues.

Within a few hours, Thai and Cambodian armed forces opened fire on each other leaving at least one Thai villager and one Cambodian soldier dead. Some early reports even claimed as many as 6 fatalities.

The exact trigger for Friday’s clashes is still unknown with both sides blaming the other. However, what is certain is that the PAD and TPN have agitated what should have been a minor incident between two neighbouring countries to such an extent that it has come to armed conflict.

Some perspective is required here. We are talking about a disputed border area of 4.6 sq km. A meeting between Thailand, Cambodia and the World Heritage Committee is already scheduled to try and work out a peaceful solution to the issue.

By stirring up feelings of nationalism and demanding military action, the TPN and the PAD have not only weakened Thailand’s claims to the territory in the eyes of the World Heritage Committee but also caused lives to be lost. At the same time, they have achieved exactly nothing.

Perhaps if the Cambodians return the disputed Preah Vihear complex to Thailand, then Thailand will return Trat province to Cambodia.

Paul Snowdon – February 5, 2011

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