BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand's premier on Thursday demanded the immediate release of seven Thais, including a ruling party politician, who were detained by Cambodian troops near the countries' disputed border.
"Cambodia must release all seven Thais immediately," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters. "Cambodia should not take this case to court as it will further complicate the issue."
The seven, including Democrat Party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth, appeared in a court in Phnom Penh on Thursday for questioning, a day after being detained by Cambodian authorities, who said they had entered its territory illegally.
They were taken to the Phnom Penh municipal court under tight security in the morning for a hearing that was closed to the media, according to an AFP reporter. By mid-afternoon there was still no announcement by the court.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday the seven, who also include members of the royalist "Yellow Shirt" movement, would be charged and put in jail to await trial.
In an attempt to secure their release, the Thai foreign minister was due to travel to Cambodia to meet his counterpart later Thursday.
"Cambodia must take into consideration that if they want cordial ties they should rely on negotiations. If not then there is a problem for both sides," Abhisit said.
He warned that it would be unacceptable to Thailand if Cambodian soldiers had intruded into its territory to make the arrests. Abhisit said he had tasked Panich with seeking information about the border issue.
The two countries have a long-standing dispute over their border, which is not fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.
Relations between the two countries have been strained since a series of deadly border clashes in July 2008 over land surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear temple after it was granted UN World Heritage status.
Deputy Thai premier Suthep Thaugsuban, however, acknowledged that the seven Thais were on Cambodian territory when arrested.
"Panich and his entourage passed the border police checkpoint and border police followed them by car to ask them to return, but they were already on Cambodian soil," he said.