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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thaksin meets pardoned 'spy' on second Cambodia visit

News Desk
The Nation (Thailand)


Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra swooped into Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh yesterday (December 13) and headed directly to the prison holding the Thai engineer convicted of spying, in a move destined to further strain ties with Cambodia.

Sivarak Chutipong, who was sentenced by a Cambodian court to seven years jail for leaking the flight plan of Thaksin's previous trip but was pardoned by Cambodia's king on Friday, will return to Thailand this afternoon, his mother Simarak na Nakhon Panom said.

Yesterday's meeting appeared to be the first time Sivarak had met Thaksin whose visit, the second in about a month, is certain to further stoke tension between the neighbouring countries. It has also been confirmed yesterday that Thaksin had requested Sivarak's pardon in a phone call to Cambodian leader Hun Sen.

Amid speculation in Thailand that the Sivarak saga was a political manipulation to reboost his image, Thaksin was driven straight from the airport to Prey Sar prison. Some 300 special forces troops were deployed along the route of his motorcade and around the penitentiary's compound.

Thaksin was seen entering the facility's entrance and having a chat with Sivarak, who is due to be released today (December 14) on a royal pardon from Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni.

Sivarak's attorney Khieu Sambo said Thaksin met briefly with Sivarak, asking about his health and the names of those who ordered him to commit espionage.

Thaksin recently claimed the Thai government wanted his flight plan because it was plotting to use F-16 to attack his airplane.

Thaksin's stint in Phnom Penh last month as an economic adviser to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government has drawn strong protest from the Thai government, as Thaksin is running from a two-year jail term in Thailand for corruption and abuse of power.

His reappearance further puts Thai-Cambodian ties on the line as the Hun Sen government has rejected the Thai requests to extradite Thaksin promptly. According to their extradition treaty, Cambodia should forward the request to its courts for consideration.

Thailand protested by recalling its ambassador and Cambodia followed suit. Both countries later expelled first secretaries.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thaksin played a role in winning Sivarak's freedom by calling Cambodia's prime minister and asking for leniency, There is widespread suspicion in Thailand that the secret agent case was orchestrated to allow Thaksin to step in behind-the-scenes to secure Sivarak's royal pardon - a move that would promote Thaksin's image among his supporters back home and embarrass the Thai government, which has bitter relations with Hun Sen.

Sivarak's mother and Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, chairman of the Thaksin-linked opposition party in Thailand, submitted a written request for the pardon to Hun Sen, who forwarded it to the king, Khieu Kanharith said.

Thaksin spoke to Hun Sen by telephone to request the pardon, Khieu Kanharith claimed.

Thaksin is scheduled to be present today (December 14) at an informal ceremony at Hun Sen's residence to hand over Sivarak to his mother. He will conduct one or two economic workshops during his stay.

Acting Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said Bangkok would submit a new request for Thaksin's return.

"The Thai government will follow the same procedure as last time. When people wanted for crimes in this country travel to a neighbouring country we will ask them to detain them and request extradition," Panitan told reporters.

The foreign ministry is also considering whether to again appeal to the Cambodian government to send Thaksin, who is facing several charges in Thailand, back.


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