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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cambodia takes over Thailand-run company as row deepens

Cambodia has taken over the running of the country's Thai-owned air traffic control firm, in a deepening row between the two neighbouring countries.

Cambodia also barred all Thai employees from turning up for work and put a Cambodian national in temporary charge.

The move comes a day after a Thai engineer working for the firm in Phnom Penh was formally charged with spying.

It is said he passed on details of last week's flight to Cambodia by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Thaksin, who is wanted in Thailand to serve a jail sentence for corruption, spent five days in Cambodia in his new role as an economic adviser.

'Seizing firm'

On Thursday, the government in Phnom Penh appointed a senior Cambodian civil servant in temporary charge of Cambodia Air Traffic Services (Cats) - a Thai-owned and Thai-operated firm.

It also suspended all Thai nationals from performing their duties.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya urged Cambodia to respect bilateral deals, regulating the running of Cats.

"The ministry is waiting for reports from the Thai embassy and we will also have to get clarification from the Cambodian government. If it violates bilateral agreements, then we will find way to proceed," the minister told reporters.

"Cambodia is a market economy. Just seizing (a firm) would not seem right," he added.

Internal politics

Phnom Penh's move is said to be temporary pending the outcome of a legal case against a Thai engineer who works for the company, the BBC's Rachel Harvey in Bangkok reports.

Siwarak Chothipong, 31, a Cats employee, was on Wednesday charged with spying.

He is currently under arrest, accused of passing the flight details of Mr Thaksin to a Thai diplomat.

Mr Thaksin's presence across the border infuriated the Thai government, which claims he should have been extradited to serve a two-year jail term.

The former Thai prime minister was ousted in a coup in 2006, and subsequently found guilty in absentia on conflict of interest charges.

Local newspaper reports in Thailand suggest the current Thai government and Mr Thaksin are now competing to offer help to the detained engineer and his family, our correspondent says.

Rachel Harvey adds that this is an indication that the row is as much about the internal politics of Thailand as it is about cross-border rivalries.

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