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Friday, December 11, 2009

3RD LD: Cambodia's king pardons Thai engineer convicted of spying+

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday pardoned a Thai man who was earlier this week imprisoned after being convicting on a spying charge, a government spokesman told Kyodo News.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the king granted the royal pardon to 31-year-old Siwarak Chothipong at the request of his family and lawyers.

Siwarak, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on Tuesday, will be personally handed over to his mother by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at a ceremony Monday to be witnessed by representatives of Thailand's opposition Pheu Thai Party, he said.

Siwarak, an engineer at Thai-owned contractor Cambodia Air Traffic Services Co., which supervises air services in Cambodia, was arrested on Nov. 11, one day after ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's arrived in Phnom Penh by private jet at Hun Sen's invitation.

Siwarak was charged with collecting information on the flight schedule of Thaksin, regarded by the Thai government as a fugitive from justice, and passing it on to a diplomat at the Thai Embassy.

After confirming Thaksin's presence in Cambodia, the Thai government formally requested his extradition. The Cambodian government refused to on grounds that's Thaksin's corruption convictions were politically motivated.

Former Thai Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a leader of the pro- Thaksin Pheu Thai Party, is expected to attend the handover ceremony. Sources who asked not to be named suggested Thaksin himself might also take part in the event.

In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva later Friday welcomed the move, but said the Thai government regards the issue as separate from the ongoing row between the two countries.

Cambodia's relations with the Thai government, already tense due a border dispute that flared up last year, further deteriorated early last month with the appointment of Thaksin as personal advisor to Hun Sen as well as an economic advisor to the Cambodian government.

Thailand subsequently recalled its ambassador from Phnom Penh in protest and has since been reviewing bilateral agreements and commitments signed between the two countries.

Thaksin, who Hun Sen regards as a good friend, was ousted from the premiership in 2006 in a bloodless coup. He fled Thailand in August last year shortly before a court sentenced him to two years in jail for breaking a conflict of interest law while he was in power.

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