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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sivarak: My phone talks were recorded

By THE NATION


Pardoned Thai "spy" Sivarak Chutipong has revealed that the Cambodian authorities recorded his phone conversations with a senior Thai diplomat, leading to his arrest and conviction in Phnom Penh.

Sivarak told Thai Rath online he knew his conversations with first secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai had been recorded. This account was likely to rekindle speculation that Phnom Penh had been tapping the communications of Thai citizens and diplomats.

The Cambodians apparently built their spy charges against Sivarak around Kamrob's alleged request for Thaksin Shinawatra's flight plan when he visited Phnom Penh last month, and Sivarak's action afterwards.

"I knew our conversations had been recorded," he told Thai Rath. He had said that he thought those phone conversations were normal.

Sivarak told Thai Rath he held no grudges against Kamrob, who he said had not contacted him since his return to Thailand on Monday.

Sivarak was last week sentenced to seven years in jail but later promptly pardoned by the Cambodian king. He returned to Thailand on Monday but the Thai government was very cautious about any sign of improvement in soured bilateral ties.

The improvement of Thai-Cambodian ties will hinge on three conditions - respect for the Thai judiciary, non-interference in internal affairs and a Cambodian review of the appointment of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra as adviser - the deputy secretary-general to the prime minister said yesterday.

"The return of the Thai engineer [Sivarak Chutipong] is a good sign - but bilateral ties will depend on how Cambodia meets the three conditions," Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

Thailand will neither set a timetable for the next move by Cambodia nor make any demands for diplomatic normalisation, he said, reaffirming to uphold good neighbourly relations while Phnom Penh ponders its decision.

He said Cambodia's decision to back a Thai fugitive like Thaksin had made it impossible for Thailand to maintain bilateral ties under normal circumstances.

In regard to the involvement of Thai diplomat Kamrob Palawatwichai in the Sivarak legal wrangling, he said the Foreign Ministry would clarify pertinent issues in due time, as Sivarak had already returned to his homeland.

"Pending the green light from his ministry, Kamrob is expected to release a written statement to explain his role," he said, ruling out a call for Kamrob to give an interview in person.

Panitan hinted, however, that there would be no objection if Kamrob were also to seek a personal meeting with Sivarak to present his side of the story.

He said the Sivarak case, which prompted Thaksin's second trip to Cambodia, was a ploy designed to discredit the government and the Thai justice system.

Thai citizens should not fall prey to such ploys since political stability is the key to economic recovery, he said.

He added that Thaksin might also have a second motive: boosting the morale of the red shirts, currently seen as in disarray.

"Since negotiations aimed at eluding his judicial conviction cannot materialise, Thaksin is doing everything to sway the masses in order to pressure for a general election that he hopes would pave the way to get out of his legal trouble," Panitan said.

Thaksin yesterday accused the Foreign Ministry of ordering Kamrob to spy on his flight information when he landed in Phnom Penh last month.

Kamrob received a call from Bangkok and later called Sivarak, who worked for Cambodia Air Traffic Services, to ask for the flight schedule, Thaksin said in his Internet radio show.

When Kamrob got the information from Sivarak, he rushed to inform Bangkok, Thaksin said, without specifying what he meant by "Bangkok".

The Foreign Ministry, of which he was once a minister, had mobilised all resources to hurt him and caused much trouble for the Thai national and relations with a neighbouring country, the ex-PM added.

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