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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cambodia strains ties even more

All Thai staff banned from air traffic office

Cambodia intensified the diplomatic spat with Thailand yesterday when authorities in Phnom Penh expelled all Thai officials from their offices at Cambodia Air Traffic Services.

The order by the Cambodian government came after Phnom Penh filed charges yesterday against Sivarak Chutipong, a Thai engineer working for CATS.

"Cambodia has charged him with stealing classified information affecting national security," said Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, the secretary to the foreign minister.

The Cambodian government ordered Thai nationals working for CATS to immediately leave the company and prohibited them from re-entering until the legal proceedings against Mr Sivarak are completed, Samart Corporation Plc president Watchai Wilailuck said.

CATS, a fully owned subsidiary of Bangkok-based Samart, has been granted a 32-year air traffic control concession.

The firm employs nine Thai officials at the Cambodian airport, all of them either in management or senior engineering positions. About 200 other staff members are Cambodians.

Mr Watchai was told Cambodian authorities would send their own people to operate the company.

"We need to follow Cambodia's order and are asking the Thai government to help negotiate with the Cambodian government to solve the problem because it is affecting a private business which has nothing to do with the state dispute," Mr Watchai said.

Thailand and Cambodia are signatories to the Investment Protection Agreement to protect each other's private businesses.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Foreign Ministry has been ordered to look into the problem of CATS.

Mr Sivarak was arrested on Nov 12 for allegedly obtaining confidential information about the flight details of convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and supplying it to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian government also expelled the embassy's first secretary, Kamrob Palawatwichai and Thailand retaliated with the same measure.

The 31-year-old detainee and the Thai Foreign Ministry have denied the accusations.

Deputy ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said the ministry was helping to find Mr Sivarak a lawyer. Cambodian law requires his legal representative to be a Cambodian national.

"The Thai side still believes in Cambodia's judicial process and hopes Phnom Penh will be fair to Mr Sivarak," Mr Thani said.

Thaksin wrote in his Twitter page yesterday he had contacted Cambodian leaders to find ways to help the Thai engineer being detained at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh.

"I've been in touch with them. They said they would investigate first and will treat him fairly," he said in his posting.

Mr Abhisit refused to comment on the assistance by Thaksin to help secure the release of the engineer and said the government's actions had been helping to improve the situation for Mr Sivarak.

But Mr Sivarak's mother, Simarak na Nakhon Phanom, thanked Thaksin for his efforts to help secure the release of her son.

Deputy director-general of the Consular Affairs Department Madurapochana Ittarong was helping Mrs Simarak and Mr Sivarak's younger sister to obtain access to him in Phnom Penh.

Puea Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh also offered to help in talks with the Cambodian government.

Mr Thani said Gen Chavalit's offer was welcome.

The latest conflict between the Thai and Cambodian governments started last month when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made Thaksin an economic adviser to himself and to his government. Thailand was offended when Hun Sen said Thaksin's corruption case was politically motivated and refused to hand him over to Bangkok.

The fugitive prime minister left the Cambodian capital for Dubai on Saturday.

Puea Thai MP Jatuporn Prompan yesterday claimed the Cambodian government had an audio clip of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya ordering Mr Kamrob to seek the flight schedule of the ousted prime minister.

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Rare crocs found hiding in plain sight in Cambodia

By Michael Casey, Associated Press

BANGKOK — Conservationists searching for one of the world's most endangered crocodile species say they have found dozens of the reptiles lounging in plain sight — at a wildlife rescue center in Cambodia.

DNA taken from 69 crocodiles housed in the moats of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center showed nearly 50% were Siamese crocodiles, which until recently were believed to have become extinct in the wild, researchers said Wednesday.

"For the first time in Cambodia, we have a captive population of animals that we know 100% are purebred Siamese crocodiles," said Adam Starr, who manages the Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Program, a joint effort between the government and Fauna & Flora International. The Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Wildlife Alliance also took part.

Once common throughout Southeast Asia, the Siamese crocodile or crocodylus Siamensis is locally extinct in 99% of the areas it once roamed and is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Much of the wild population was wiped out by habitat loss and poaching.

Those left in the wild — thought to be less than 250, with nearly all in Cambodia and the rest in Indonesia and Vietnam — face the new threat of hydropower dams being built in two of their three known habitats in the country.

Starr said the discovery of the captive population would give conservationists new options for breeding and reintroducing the crocodiles into the wild, most likely in places not affected by the dams. He said up to 60 crocodiles a year could be released into areas where they once thrived.

DNA analysis, which was done at Thailand's Kasetsart University, is necessary because it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between Siamese crocodiles and the hybrid crocodile species that are also housed at the center.

Nhek Ratanapech, director of the wildlife center, said he was surprised to learn that so many of the crocodiles turned out to be pure Siamese.

"Before we conducted the DNA testing, we thought perhaps only three or four of them in the zoo were Siamese crocodiles," he said.

Siamese crocs are said to be a bit smaller at just under 10 feet (3.5 meters) than hybrids, and their snouts are shorter and wider.

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