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Cambodia Charges 7 Thai Nationalists with Illegal Entry

Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, who also serves as Foreign Minister, speaks during a news conference in Phnom Penh (FILE).

A Cambodian court has charged seven Thai nationalists, including a ruling party lawmaker, with illegally entering Cambodia while they inspected a disputed border area.

Cambodian authorities detained the group Wednesday on the border of northwestern Cambodia and southeastern Thailand and brought them to Phnom Penh. A court in the capital, Phnom Penh, charged them Thursday with illegal entry and encroaching on a Cambodian military zone. If convicted on both counts, they face up to 18 months in prison.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called for the immediate release of the seven Thais, who include a lawmaker of his Democrat Party, Panich Vikitsreth. Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya traveled to Phnom Penh Thursday and met with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong to try to secure their freedom.

But Hor Namhong later said the Thai nationalists will remain in custody until Cambodia's legal procedures run their course.

Mr. Abhisit said Thursday that if Cambodia wants friendly relations with Thailand, it must resolve bilateral disputes through negotiations. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that he does not expect the arrests to affect that relationship.

Panich traveled to the border region with six members of the pro-military and pro-monarchy Yellow Shirt movement, saying they were investigating complaints from Thai farmers about intrusions by Cambodian soldiers. He insisted that he and his companions were on Thai territory when they were detained.

But Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Thursday it appears the group had gone just inside Cambodian territory.

Much of the Thai-Cambodian border is poorly defined, in part, because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.