Two Thais jailed in Cambodia for espionage and illegal entry are pinning their hopes on being released early.
The Cambodian Ministry of Justice is mulling Prime Minister Hun Sen's instruction to reduce the prison term for Veera Somkwamkid and to give a royal pardon to Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, a press statement issued by the Foreign Ministry of Cambodia said Thursday.
The statement said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra asked the Cambodian prime minister during the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh in November last year to consider pardoning the two imprisoned Thais. She made the same request on Thursday.
In response to Ms Yingluck's request, Hun Sen instructed the Ministry of Justice to consider reducing Veera's duration of imprisonment, which could lead to a pardon in the future, and the pardoning of Ratree, on the occasion of the royal cremation of former king Norodom Sihanouk. The cremation has been set for Feb 4.
The Cambodian Justice Ministry will decide soon on the matter, the statement said.
Ms Yingluck yesterday pledged to continue efforts to seek Veera's release. She said the Thai government would raise the matter with Cambodia whenever possible.
"The matter has been raised with Cambodia since [my] first visit to Cambodia. The government has been asking for updates," she said.
Ms Yingluck said Cambodia has demonstrated a will to grant a pardon to the pair especially when special occasions arise.
She yesterday thanked Phnom Penh for its goodwill gesture.
"It is our job to take care of every Thai. And I have to thank Cambodia on the government's behalf for its help," she said.
She said that the families of Veera and Ratree had been informed of the good news.
Cambodia is expected to officially address the matter, she said.
Veera and Ratree were arrested along with five other Thais, including then-Democrat Party MP Panich Vikitsreth, on Dec 29, 2010 while "inspecting" a disputed border zone near Sa Kaeo's Ban Nongchan area.
The two are currently being held in Prey Sar Prison near Phnom Penh. Veera was sentenced to eight years in jail and Ratree to six years on charges of espionage and illegal entry. Veera had previously been deported from Cambodia for illegal entry.
The five others were released after the court suspended their sentences of nine months in jail for illegal entry.
Cambodia earlier refused to consider Thailand's request to pardon them, saying that the two individuals must have served at least two thirds of their imprisonment before becoming eligible for a pardon.
Officials had previously looked at the possibility of seeking an early release of the two through a prisoner exchange programme.
Ratree has already served one third of her jail term which makes her eligible for the prisoner transfer programme. Veera will have met the requirement in the middle of this year.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said from Pakistan he unofficially received the "good news" from Cambodia yesterday morning.
The Cambodian side is preparing to pardon Ratree on Feb 1 and Veera's sentence will be reduced so that in six months he will be eligible for the prisoner transfer programme, he said.
"I have ordered the officials to inform the relatives of Veera and Ratree about this good news. Prime Minister Yingluck and I had kept asking Cambodia for a long time," Mr Surapong said.
"This is good for the relationship of the two countries."
Noppadon Pattama, close aide to ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said the prospect of Ratree's release and Veera's reduced prison term indicate that the government's foreign policy is bearing fruit.
He said it shows that the Pheu Thai government is committed to helping anyone facing hardship.
This is the press release issued on Thursday by the Cambodian Foreign Ministry announcing likely pardons for the two Thais imprisoned on espionage charges.
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Writer: Thanida Tansubhapol, Pradit Ruangdit & Aekarach Sattaburuth