July 26, 2012 00:00 By Boonleun Promprathankul
Myanmar's Koh Song Court has sentenced 92 Thais to jail for terms of three-and-a-half years for illegal entry and encroaching on forestland without permission.
The verdict along with photos of the defendants were received by the ThailandMyanmar Township Border Committee (TBC) for RanongKoh Song yesterday afternoon. TBC officials were translating the verdict's details at press time yesterday.
Eighty-two Thai men and 10 Thai women arrested since July 4 were found guilty of the two offences. More charges may follow, pending an ongoing investigation.
A further 10 Thai suspects were brought to court on Tuesday and could face charges of growing narcotic plants (marijuana and kratom) and possessing war weapons, said local reports.
Commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment Task Force, Col Pornsak Pulsawat, speaking as head of TBC Ranong, said Thai authorities would appeal for lighter punishments as these were the defendants’ first offences.
Pornsak said the appeal would be submitted to the government in Nay Pyi Taw, with chances of its success boosted by a previous offer made by President Thein Sein to PM Yingluck Shinawatra to help in the case.
An unconfirmed local report claims that Myanmar authorities will release the 10 Thai female prisoners on August 12 before releasing their male counterparts gradually.
Meanwhile, a source has obtained two photos of the Ban Khao Mile Prison on Koh Song where the 92 Thais are being detained. The photos show an old building with tin roof surrounded by a barbedwire fence, 10metrewide ditch and several military guard posts.
Former Thai detainee Atcha Pratheeppichai, 44, who spent 14 years in Ban Khao Mile Prison for encroaching into Myanmar waters on a fishing trip, recalls it was a hellish experience.
He described how the earthen-floor-and-tin-roof jail was infested by mosquitoes, cockroaches and rats, while smell from the pit toilets was almost unbearable. He said the best meal inmates could expect was boiled rice with salt and soybean soup.
One of his nine crewmembers fell ill and died in the jail, said Atcha, adding that he heard that many Thais died in the prison each year. Most inmates were arrested for illegal entry and encroaching on Myanmar waters, as well as drug offences, he said.
Thai government appeals in such cases had been unsuccessful in the past as most Thai defendants were sentenced quickly, he said.
Atcha added that he and seven of his crewmembers had been lucky, receiving pardons on December 7, 2011 after serving two years. They then returned to Thailand via Ranong.
In related news, 11 Myanmar workers were yesterday arrested at a market on Chalerm Phrakiat Road in Ranong’s Muang district, following Thai vendors’ complaints that the suspects were running shops to compete with them.
Captain Surasak Peungyaem, who led law enforcement and Employment officials in making the arrests, said the problem of immigrant workers doing jobs not permitted was difficult to solve, as Thais were being hired by Myanmarese to pose as their employers and pay any fines or bail if the Myanmarese were caught by police.