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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hun Sen must cool this feud

The farcical episode of the Thai "spy" in Cambodia is over today. Sivarak Chutipong, sentenced to seven years by a Phnom Penh court and then just as quickly pardoned, is to return to Thailand accompanied by Puea Thai MPs after being farewelled by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

He loses his job at the air-controller firm in Cambodia, but regains his freedom after weeks in the squalid Prey Sar prison. It seems likely, however, that the equally squalid crisis in Thai-Cambodian relations engineered by Prime Minister Hun Sen may still continue, and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must consider his options carefully.

Sivarak was a classic version of a bystander caught up in a whirlwind of events. His alleged crime was not much more than doing his job, which was to keep track of aircraft into and out of Pochentong airport on the edge of Phnom Penh. He worked for Cambodia Air Transport Services, a Thai-owned firm despite the name. He knew the arrival details of the flight into Cambodia by Thaksin. Apparently, when asked, he gave those flight details to a senior Thai diplomat, embassy first secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai. Hun Sen or one of his supporters blew that harmless exchange of information into a diplomatic incident - Mr Kamrob was expelled - and Sivarak's show trial.

The scripted verdict and pardon of Sivarak closes the chapter but not the book. Hun Sen remains at loggerheads with Mr Abhisit, and perhaps even more with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. The Sivarak trial and the expulsion of Mr Kamrob allowed the Puea Thai Party to get some credit and, just as importantly, shut Thai diplomats and the government out of the equation.

Mr Abhisit and Mr Kasit, correctly, have refused to escalate the dispute engineered by Hun Sen. But the simmering state of affairs between the two governments is harmful to relations and puts several Asean agreements at risk. Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan has officially opted out of the dispute, saying the group will neither take sides nor attempt to negotiate an easing of relations. Another half-cocked move by Hun Sen or a mistake by border troops could even risk violence.

Mr Abhisit never has been clear why he chose Mr Kasit as foreign minister early this year. Mr Kasit was a key supporter, a fervent speaker and an unrepentant apologist for the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). At his worst moments, the minister personally attacked Hun Sen, and even attempted to defend the indefensible seizure of the two Bangkok airports late last year. He has been called ''the minister from the PAD'', and there have been frequent calls for his dismissal by the opposition.

Mr Kasit should consider his personal options against the national interest. He might conclude that a more politically neutral foreign minister could help the country at this juncture. Foreign governments, most especially Hun Sen's Cambodia, cannot have a say in the make-up of the Thai government. At the same time, Mr Kasit is an unelected minister, and the needs of the country are far more important than any cabinet member.

Hun Sen in any case can be expected to keep up his unreasonable vendetta against the Thai government. The Cambodian leader should know that Mr Abhisit played no part in the coup that ousted Thaksin. Instead of standing back in embarrassed silence, Mr Surin and other Asean leaders should stress this to him. Hun Sen should stop trying to interfere in Thai politics and resume conducting foreign policy, with Thailand and others, in a professional manner.
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Chinese vice president leaves for four-Asian-nation visit

BEIJING, (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping left here Monday morning for an official visit to Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Myanmar and Cambodia.

The visit will last to Dec. 22, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Xi's entourage included senior officials from the Foreign Ministry, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Culture, the Policy Research Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the China Development Bank.

Xi paid the visit as guest of the governments of Japan, ROK and Cambodia, as well as Vice Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar Maung Aye.

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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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Killing fields to harvest fields: AEF launches work in Cambodia

“God is opening a new door in Cambodia, transforming the killing fields into the glorious harvest fields for the Gospel,” declared Dr Jonathan James, the international director of AEF as he officially launched the new ministry of Asia Evangelistic Fellowship (AEF) Cambodia in Kampong Thom province, the one time home of the infamous Pol Pot, on December 5th 2009. Dr James, in his message, encouraged the Cambodian church to marvel at the providence and grace of God in that after prolonged years of unrest, war, genocide and instability, “Cambodia’s day has come”.

Nearly 120 national pastors and leaders attended the launch and commissioning service of the newly-elected board of AEF Cambodia with Dr Felipe Castro as national director and regional director for Indo-China and Pastor Khan Khon as chairman of the board of directors. Representatives from twenty churches in various districts pledged their support for the AEF vision of training nationals to reach nationals and joined the fellowship as its initial members.

Dr Felipe Castro shared that what Cambodia needs is culture-specific evangelism and discipleship strategies and AEF, an Asian mission with nearly 50 years of experience in Asia, founded by Asian evangelist, the late Dr G D James, has come to Cambodia at such a time as this for the undergirding and strengthening of the Cambodian Church. “AEF will assist village churches in training and mission development”, he added. In an earlier meeting, Dr Jonathan James and Dr Castro met with Rev Timothy Ith, the Principal of the Phnom Penh Bible College in Phnom Penh, the capital city. Rev. Ith warmly welcomed AEF’s presence into the nation and agreed to serve on the Advisory board of the local fellowship.

Outreach plans

Pastor Khon, the AEF Chairman said that AEF Cambodia hopes to train and appoint local workers to be placed in mission points in all the 14 provinces. After the initial business meeting of the board, the Secretary, Mr. Choun Kimyan shared the minutes of the meeting mentioning that the AEF Board has appointed a worker to reach out to the Kuoy tribal group, one of the unreached cultural minorities in the nation. Kimyam also shared that within a year; the board hopes to establish a training centre in Stung Treng, in the north east section of the country to train Indo-Chinese people for missions and evangelism from the surrounding regions. An annual Bible teaching conference will be organized to fall in place with the launch date of the fellowship in December.

Harvest

On the Sunday after the launch of AEF, the international director Jonathan James spoke at a special evangelistic outreach rally, organized by the Chairman, Pastor Khan on the grounds of a local Church in Kampong Thom. Some 200 people from the surrounding villages attended the rally and 20 people from Khmer and tribal backgrounds accepted the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior at the close of the meeting. There was much praise to God for the blessings of His word and local pastors shared that this is indeed another evidence of the great hunger for the Gospel in the land.

Prayers needed

AEF International and AEF Cambodia would like to solicit fervent prayers for the nation of Cambodia and for the Church to grow and mature in every way. Prayers are also appreciated for the vision and mission of AEF that it will be established in Cambodia for the glory of His name
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Thaksin Cambodia trip upsets Thailand


Thailand's fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has landed in Cambodia, setting the stage for another diplomatic fracas between the countries.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, was escorted from a small private jet at Phnom Penh International Airport on Sunday into the capital by a convoy of cars under tight security, an AFP reporter said.

Thaksin's visit to Cambodia last month to take up a government economic advisory role caused a diplomatic row when Cambodian premier Hun Sen refused to extradite the tycoon to Thailand to serve a two-year jail term for corruption.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said on Sunday Bangkok would submit a new extradition request.

'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 and request an extradition,' Panitan told reporters.

But Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told AFP that sending a further request 'is just a waste of time'.

'Cambodia's position on the issue will not change. We will not extradite or arrest Mr. Thaksin,' he said.

After his arrival, Thaksin went to Prey Sar prison for a brief visit with a Thai man jailed for spying on him last month.

Siwarak Chothipong, 31, is due to be released on Monday after Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni issued a pardon.

Thaksin is expected to attend an official ceremony following Siwarak's release to be held at Hun Sen's home along with members of Thailand's opposition party and Siwarak's mother.

Siwarak's mother was seen smiling outside the prison on Sunday after the meeting with Thaksin.

The air traffic control employee was sentenced to seven years in jail for supplying Thaksin's flight schedule to the Thai embassy.

During his trial last week, Siwarak denied stealing documents and told the court that although he had informed the embassy's first secretary by telephone of a flight arrival, he had not been aware that Thaksin was on board.

As a result of the case Cambodia expelled the first secretary to the Thai embassy and Thailand retaliated in kind.

Both countries had earlier withdrawn their ambassadors in the dispute over Thaksin's appointment as economic adviser.

Angered by Thaksin's presence in Cambodia, Thailand also put all talks and cooperation on hold and tore up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's tenure as prime minister.

Tensions were already high between the two countries following a series of deadly military clashes over disputed territory near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple on their border.

Billionaire telecoms mogul Thaksin is living abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power handed down by a Thai court in absentia in September 2008.

Thaksin won two elections in Thailand and remains a massively influential political figure at home, stirring up mass protests by so-called 'Red Shirt' supporters against the current government.
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