Thailand extradites four Khmer prisoners to Cambodia

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SA KAEO, Feb 1 – Thailand on Wednesday extradited four Cambodian prisoners, but the Sa Kaeo prison chief denies it was an exchange for two Thai activists jailed earlier in Phnom Penh for espionage.

Sa Kaeo Deputy Governor Chat Kittinoppadon and Sa Kaeo Provincial Prison Commander Kittipat Dechapahun witnessed the handover ceremony of four Cambodian prisoners — two men and two women — to the Cambodian government through Cambodian ambassador to Thailand You Aye.

It was the first time that a handover was held at a local checkpoint as the event was held in Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo province.

The four men were jailed at Sa Kaeo Provincial Prison for drug-related offences and have completed one-third of their jail term. They are now entitled to be extradited to finish their jail terms in their homeland.

Mr Kittipat stressed that the extradition handled normally, without a hidden agenda as some have speculated that the transfer of the Khmer prisoners may lead to the release of two Thai activists who were put behind bars in Phnom Penh, and that they may be handed over to Thai authorities.

He said the release of Veera Somkwamkid, a leader of the People’s Network against Corruption and a high-profile activist in the Thai Patriots Network, and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, depends on Cambodia.

Mr Veera and Ms Ratree were arrested on Dec 29, 2010, along with five others including then Democrat Party member of parliament Panich Vikitsreth, after they illegally entered Cambodian territory to observe the border demarcation process.

The five were released in late January, 2011 after the Cambodian court suspended their sentences of nine months in jail.

A Cambodian court on Feb 1, 2011 ruled that the pair were guilty of espionage, illegal entry, and trespassing in a military zone. Mr Veera was sentenced to an eight-year jail term and fined a 1.8 million riel (US$450) while Ms Ratree was handed a six-year jail term and a 1.2 million riel ($300) fine.

Cambodia later reemphasised that the two Thai activists must serve two-thirds of their jail terms before a royal pardon could be granted, but said it was possible for the pair to be released earlier if the two countries could agree on a prisoner exchange

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said after an official visit to Cambodia last month that Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister/ Foreign Minister Hor Namhong insisted that Mr Veera and Ms Ratree must serve two-thirds of their jail terms before a royal pardon from the Cambodian monarch could be requested.

However, there is a possibility for early release if Thailand and Cambodia can agree on a prisoner exchange programme.