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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cambodia won't drop spy charges

Military tries personal appeal to free engineer

Thailand's hopes of a quick release for Sivarak Chutipong have been dashed.

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh said the alleged spy will not be freed any time soon.

In a phone interview with the Bangkok Post, Gen Tea Banh said legal proceedings against the Thai engineer must be allowed to run their course.

Thai military chiefs, including Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, are using their communications channels with Gen Tea Banh to try and help the government secure the release of the Cambodia Air Traffic Services engineer who is being detained in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison.

They hoped the general would convince Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow his release.
"I told them I am sorry but that it is not possible," Gen Tea Banh said. "Lawbreakers must face legal proceedings first. They must face investigations and will be taken to court. They cannot be let off scot-free.

"I don't know what to do. The law is there and Cambodia must stick to the law ... the judicial proceedings must be allowed to take their course. It's impossible to release him [Mr Sivarak] straight away."

Gen Tea Banh said Cambodian authorities had questioned Mr Sivarak and found allegations he illegally obtained information about fugitive former primer minister Thaksin Shinawatra's flight schedule had grounds.

Mr Sivarak was arrested on Thursday for allegedly obtaining confidential information about Thaksin's flight details and supplying it to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian government expelled the Thai embassy's first secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai in response.

Both Mr Sivarak and the Thai Foreign Ministry denied the allegations.

Mr Sivarak has not yet been formally charged, said Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

After blocking several attempts to meet the detained Thai, Cambodian authorities yesterday allowed Chalotorn Phaovibul - the highest ranking diplomat at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh - and two other staff to visit Mr Sivarak for 30 minutes.

"He is in good condition and good spirits. He is also being well taken care of by Cambodian authorities," the deputy spokesman quoted Mr Chalotorn as saying.

Mr Chalotorn has been in charge of the Thai embassy since ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai was recalled in protest over Phnom Penh's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser.

Mr Sivarak spoke with his mother, Simarak na Nakhon Phanom, in Nakhon Ratchasima by phone after being given permission by prison authorities.

Mrs Simarak, who works at Nakhon Ratchasima Technical College, said she was happy to speak to her son for the first time since his arrest and to learn that he was safe.

She appealed to the government to quickly secure her son's release.

The deputy director-general of the Consular Affairs Department, Madurapochana Ittarong, yesterday visited Mrs Simarak in the northeastern province and offered to help her arrange a visit to see Mr Sivarak in Phnom Penh.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva applauded Cambodia's decision to allow Thai diplomats to visit Mr Sivarak in prison in accordance with international standards.

Mr Abhisit told Mrs Simarak the government would try its best to secure his release as soon as possible.

"The government hopes he will be released soon following proper legal procedures," Mr Abhisit said.

Thaksin said on, his internet channel, that he had contacted the Cambodian government and asked it to ensure the engineer receives a fair trial.

"If there is anything I can do to help, I'll do it even though it [the charge] is real," he said.

The recent deterioration in Thai-Cambodian relations started last month when Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as an economic adviser to his government. Tensions increased when Cambodia rejected Thai requests that Thaksin be extradited.

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