Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday began its official questioning of a group of Thais accused of entering the country illegally, in a high-profile case that has sparked protests in Thailand and shaken newly repaired diplomatic ties between the two neighbors.
The seven suspects include Thai parliamentarian Panick Vikitsreth, who told the court Thursday the group had entered the country accidentally and with no ill intent, but that they had no seen any border guards, a lawyer told VOA Khmer.
The five men and two women have been charged with illegal entry and trespassing in a restricted military area, charges that carry a total sentence of up to 18 months in prison. The group, a delegation supported by the pro-establishment People's Alliance for Democracy, were arrested Dec. 29, after they had reportedly come to the border to investigate claims of Cambodian encroachment.
Cambodian authorities have said they were caught half a kilometer inside Cambodia and that no political release is possible. For their part, Thai officials have said they want to see a speedy, fair trial.
Relatives of the defendants, reporters and Thai Embassy officials were barred from the courtroom in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
However, Ros On, who represents Panich and two others from the group, told reporters after the hearing that his client had told the judge the group thought they were in Thailand.
Panich told the judge he had come to inspect the disputed area of the border and had seen no border guards to indicate he had crossed into Cambodia, Ros On reported.
Following questioning, the suspects were returned to Prey Sar prison, where they have been held since their arrest. Ros On said he had not yet written a bail request for his clients.