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Thai Court Hands Hefty Sentences to 16 Cambodians

A provincial court in Thailand sentenced 16 Cambodians to lengthy prison terms Wednesday, for illegally entry and illegal logging on Thai soil, officials said Thursday.

Cambodian officials say the accused had not crossed into Thailand before they were arrested by Ubon provincial authorities.

The provincial court sentenced 15 of the accused to nine-year prison terms and another to six years and two months, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Cambodia and Thailand are in a protracted border dispute, and Cambodian officials have accused Thai authorities of killing one Cambodian boy after an arrest earlier this month.

The group sentenced Wednesday were arrested in late July and comprised people living near Preah Vihear temple, which is at the center of a border dispute that has left seven soldiers dead and has continued for more than a year.

Cambodian officials say the group was on Cambodian soil, searching for wild honey and valuable timber.

Cambodian officials now have one month to lodge an appeal, said Koy Kong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Our lawyers are preparing the documents for the appeal.”

Wednesday’s hearing was attended by two independent lawyers, the Cambodian consul for Sras Keo province and officials from Preah Vihear province.

Kouch Sonnary, chief of the An Ses border pass, who joined Preah Vihear officials at the hearing, said the Cambodians had denied cutting logs and said they did understand the laws of Thailand and were unaware they had crossed a borderline.

Ros Heng, Choam Ksant district governor in Preah Vihear called the sentencing “unjust.”

“Thai authorities must guard clear border points, and the arrest was not made in a clear border area,” he said.