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Veera comes home, hit by old charges

Activist refuses to acknowledge accusations related to 2008 protests

Nationalist yellow-shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid arrived in Bangkok yesterday after being released from a Cambodian jail on Tuesday thanks to a royal pardon and was welcomed by hundreds of his supporters at the airport chanting "Fight, fight Veera" and "Veera is a hero".

However, immediately upon arrival on Thai soil, the activist was charged with criminal and terrorism offences for his role in protests against the then-Thaksin Shinawatra government and the seizure of the capital's two airports the yellow-shirt protests in 2008.

His release on Tuesday came as a surprise during a meeting between Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and acting Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow in Phnom Penh. Previously, Veera had refused to seek a royal pardon from Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanomi.

Meanwhile, in Bangkok, Veera refused to acknowledge the charges levied against him, saying he would only testify during court proceedings.

His lawyer Nitithorn Lamlua, who is also leader of a movement against the Yingluck Shinawatra government, signed the documents on Veera's behalf.

Veera and Nititorn later travelled to the Crime Suppression Division headquarters where Veera was granted a temporary release with a bail guarantee of Bt100,000. He had been charged with eight criminal offences for his role in leading the protests and the blockade of the airports.

He later travelled to a Santi Asoke sanctuary in eastern Bangkok, where he was expected rest on his first day back in Thailand, after serving three years, six months and two days in Cambodia's Prey Sar prison.

Accompanying Veera from Phnom Penh was his wife Phisamphai, while he was met at the airport by his mother and former Democrat Party MP Panich Wikitseth, who had also been arrested in 2010 before his jail term was suspended.

In a brief interview, Veera said he was not really too worried about the charges levied against him in Thailand, as he believes "he had done nothing wrong" during the protests. He said he would continue working on corruption-monitoring activities and that he had forgiven whoever had mistreated him.

Veera also thanked Sihasak for securing his release, adding that his health had improved.

He said he spent most of his time in prison giving advice on medicine and providing it to inmates, regardless of their nationality.

They came to him to ask for medication, because he had permission to acquire certain prescription drugs that were better than those provided by the prison's hospital.

Panich said he welcomed Veera's release, and would be collaborating with him on fighting corruption in the future.

Sihasak, meanwhile, said his ministry was drafting a letter to thank Hun Sen, which will be signed by junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.


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