Man, mother and baby head to prison after Cambodian court convicts cocaine smugglers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court sentenced a Thai woman and her Philippine accomplice to 30 years in prison for drug smuggling and will allow the woman to keep her newborn son with her behind bars, judges said Friday.

The woman cradled her seven-month-old baby in her arms during Thursday's ruling at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Police arrested Chon Thong Theerat in June 2009 upon arrival from Malaysia at the Phnom Penh airport, where she walked through an X-ray security machine that showed she had swallowed a dozen condoms containing 400 grams of cocaine, said judge You Bunna.

She led police to 36-year-old Luyo Romeo Plaza, who was waiting for the woman to deliver the drugs to a hotel, police said. The woman had traveled from Argentina and after stopping in Cambodia was headed to Thailand.

The pair were held in pretrial detention, where the 29-year-old woman gave birth to her son. It was not clear if Plaza was the child's father.

The court ordered each to serve 30-year prison terms and pay fines of $12,000. The woman's defense lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

Judge Kor Vandy, one of three presiding judges, said the woman would be allowed at least initially to continue caring for the baby.

"The child would continue to live in jail with his mother at first," Kor Vandy was quoted as saying in The Cambodian Daily. He added that rights organizations will sometimes help jailed mothers take care of their children inside prisons.

Cambodia is not a major producer of illegal drugs but has increasingly become a smuggling transit route.