The chances of two Thai activists being freed early from Cambodia's Prey Sar Prison still look uncertain, two years after they started serving jail terms for espionage and illegal entry.
The government has tried several times to negotiate the release of Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, but has made no progress.
The issue was not discussed directly at the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation meeting held in Bangkok yesterday. The meeting had been suspended for almost two years, a Foreign Ministry source said.
Veera, a coordinator of the Thai Patriots Network, and his secretary Ratree were arrested on Dec 29, 2010, while leading a group of Thais to survey a border area near Sa Kaeo's Aranyaprathet district.
They say they were trying to help villagers settle a border demarcation dispute with Cambodia.
Five other people held, including former Democrat MP Panich Vikitset and Samdin Lertbutr, a member of the Santi Asoke Buddhism sect, were freed soon after their arrests but Veera and Ratree were detained and charged with illegal entry and espionage. A Cambodian court later sentenced the two to eight years and six years in prison respectively.
Despite Thailand's pleas for leniency, Cambodia has insisted they serve their jail terms. Phnom Penh has suggested the prisoners seek a royal pardon from Cambodia's king after serving two thirds of their jail terms.
The joint commission meeting was co-chaired by Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong.
Mr Surapong told reporters Wednesday that Ratree would complete one third of her term tomorrow so it would be possible to bring her back to Thailand through a prisoner exchange deal.
Thailand and Cambodia have a prisoner exchange agreement under which each can request the transfer of their nationals to continue their jail terms in their own countries. Prisoners first have to apply for a transfer.
Thailand was planning to exchange 15 Cambodian prisoners for 12 Thai inmates from lists compiled by the foreign ministries of each country.
"This could be an opportunity," Mr Surapong said.
However, he said Ratree was not among the listed 12 Thai inmates and officials had yet to find out whether the agreement covered the offences she had committed in Cambodia.
A Foreign Ministry source said officials would ask Ratree if she wants to apply for a transfer before taking the matter further.
The source said the Foreign Ministry would submit a transfer request to Cambodia's Justice Ministry if Ratree agreed and was eligible.
Mr Surapong also vowed to help Veera, saying the government was ready to ask Cambodia whether the transfer agreement covered his case once he completes one third of his jail term next year. Meanwhile, Veera's younger brother Preecha called on the Yingluck Shinawatra government to show more sincerity in helping his brother.
"I still feel the government has not done enough to secure his release over the past two years. I want to see it talking more frequently with Cambodia," Mr Preecha said.
He said the government should push for talks with Phnom Penh to bring Veera and Ratree home under the exchange programme. Efforts should be made to seek a royal pardon for the two if they complete two thirds of their jail terms, he said.
Meanwhile, Thailand and Cambodia agreed to start implementing a single visa agreement Thursday.
Mr Surapong said the single visa would help promote tourism by allowing visitors from 35 countries to use one visa to stay for 60 days in either or both countries.
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Writer: Thanida Tansubhapol & Anucha Charoenpo