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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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Khmer Rouge victims seek new voice

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia are seeking a new voice in the U.N. tribunal dealing with alleged atrocities of their day, observers say.

Five former Khmer Rouge leaders were charged with crimes against humanity are being tried in Phnom Penh.

Victims were allowed to take part in the first trial but they complained the court showed little interest in their testimony. They want more input as the second trial is about to begin, the BBC said.

The Khmer Rouge was a Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, founded and led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998. It abolished religion, schools and currency in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

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Canada drops to 63rd in number of UN peacekeepers: report

Canada has dropped to 63rd place on the list of nations contributing troops to United Nations missions, just behind Cambodia, according to a new report.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report points out that, contrary to claims often heard in Canada that UN peacekeeping is dead, the demand for such troops has actually grown in recent years. As of September, there were 83,853 UN peacekeeping soldiers participating in 15 operations around the world.

The study points out that Canada was contributing just 55 military personnel at that time, while Cambodia contributed 58. Romania was right behind Canada, at 52.

At times in the 1990s, there were more than 3,000 Canadian troops assigned to UN missions.

“There has been a real decision by Canada to abandon peacekeeping, certainly in the military and government,” said the report’s author, Bill Robinson. “Peacekeeping, however, didn’t go away.”

He said senior Canadian military leaders and members of the defence lobby have been successful in convincing Canadians that “peacekeeping is dead.”

“What they haven’t been successful at is convincing Canadians that peacekeeping has no value,” said Robinson, who works as a researcher with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute. That organization supports Canada’s return to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

“Canadians take pride in peacekeeping and want to get back to it,” he said.

In September, the government released the results of a public-opinion poll conducted for National Defence in which half of those Canadians surveyed said they wanted their soldiers to return to a “peacekeeping-only” role.

The Ipsos-Reid poll, done in March 2008, noted there was “a small, but statistically significant increase” in the number of people who supported a peacekeeping-only international mission for Canadian soldiers.

Military officers and soldiers, however, prefer combat-oriented operations, such as those in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Italy has expanded its contribution to UN peacekeeping, assigning 2,500 troops to missions, Robinson said. China, which had no peacekeepers assigned to the UN in 1990, now has 2,000 personnel operating on such missions.

“This is about national interest as much as it is about global security,” Robinson said.

Some missions are traditional peacekeeping operations, where soldiers separate two warring sides. Other missions require more robust military action on the part of the UN and the world organization has had mixed success in some of those, he said.

“There has been some successes, but that could be improved with more highly trained soldiers,” Robinson said.

The report also noted the significant increase that Canadian governments have made in defence spending. Canada is the 13th-largest military spender in the world in terms of actual dollars spent.

It is also the sixth-largest military spender among the 28 countries in NATO. It trails the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy, all of which have much larger populations and economies, the report noted.

Before the mid-1990s, Canada was consistently among the top 10 contributors to UN peacekeeping missions.
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Sivarak pardon plans hit snag

The Puea Thai Party has postponed its plans to seek a pardon for Thai engineer Sivarak Chutipong and is considering other ways to approach Cambodian authorities.

Originally it had decided to send a team of lawyers to Phnom Penh on Monday to present letters to Cambodian officials pleading for a pardon for the Thai man convicted of spying and sentenced to seven years in jail.

But the plan was cancelled at the request of Sivarak's mother, Simarak na Nakhon Phanom, who raised concerns about how long it would take. Mrs Simarak is a teacher and has not been granted leave of absence by the Education Ministry, Puea Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said.

It was then decided the letters appealing to Cambodian King Sihamoni via Prime Minister Hun Sen would be formally handed to the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok today.

But late last night, Puea Thai told the media via SMS it was cancelling the plan.

A Puea Thai source said there had been a coordination problem with the Cambodian representatives. He gave no explanation, saying only the request would have to be postponed.

Three copies of the letter were to have been handed over, one signed by party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, one by the party's MPs, and another by Mrs Simarak.

The engineer's mother has remained in Phnom Penh and was hoping to return home with her son if a pardon was granted, the source said.

Puea Thai lawyers will go to the Education Ministry today to submit a letter on behalf of Mrs Simarak, a teacher at Nakhon Ratchasima Technical College, seeking special leave to help her son.

Sivarak, a 31-year-old engineer with Thai-owned Cambodia Air Traffic Services, was sentenced on Tuesday to seven years in jail and fined 10 million riel (100,000 baht) for stealing information about former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's flight plans to Cambodia and giving them to a Thai diplomat based in Phnom Penh.

Mr Prompong said Mrs Simarak wanted Puea Thai to help her son because she believed the party had good relations with Cambodia.

"This is neither a publicity stunt nor a move to steal the show," Mr Prompong said.

He said Thaksin, as an economic adviser to the Cambodian government and a personal adviser to Hun Sen, had also spoken to the Cambodian leader in a bid to help Sivarak.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government was ready to support any pardon attempt for Sivarak.

He said it was understandable that Sivarak's mother and his family members chose to opt for the best course of action to obtain his freedom.

Mr Abhisit did not reject speculation Sivarak could be given his freedom soon after the request was submitted.

"That's possible. This issue has long been speculated," he said. "Those who have followed the developments from the beginning should know the reasons behind them."

Democrat Party spokesman Thepthai Senpong said: "I'm surprised by Mrs Simarak's decision to help her son without asking for the Foreign Ministry's assistance, because this is not in line with international practice.

"I wonder if Thaksin, Gen Chavalit and Hun Sen have more prominent roles than the Cambodian king."

Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin's legal adviser, said he had discussed Sivarak's conviction with Thaksin and what steps should be taken to help him.
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Thai soldiers again accused of shooting dead Cambodian logger

Phnom Penh - Thai troops shot dead a Cambodian man who crossed into Thailand to fell trees illegally, local media reported Friday. Phlok Lai, 55, is the third Cambodian national to be shot and killed by Thai troops in the past three months.

District police chief Keo Tann said another man in the group of 10 was seriously injured while a third is missing after the incident late Tuesday. The remaining seven made it back safely to Cambodia.

"The Thai officers at the border said they would find the missing man if we ordered people to refrain from going to Thailand to log illegally," Keo Tann told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper.

Earlier this month a Cambodian man was shot dead by Thai soldiers while illegally logging inside Thailand. In the most notorious case Thai soldiers were accused of shooting and then burning alive a 16-year-old Cambodian youth in September. Thailand denied the youth was burned alive.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong described the Thai soldiers' behaviour as "very cruel."

"In previous years the Thai military would just arrest our people who were illegally crossing the border and sentence them to jail," he said. "But now they are shooting our people."

Earlier this week the Cambodian government warned its citizens living along the 800-kilometre long border, much of which has yet to be officially demarcated, to avoid crossing the border into Thailand.

The shootings come at a time of heightened tensions between the two nations. Both withdrew their ambassadors last month after Cambodia appointed Thailand's fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra as an adviser to the Cambodian government.

Cambodia and Thailand also have a long-standing dispute over the land surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple in northern Cambodia. Over the past 18 months clashes between troops at Preah Vihear have cost the lives of at least seven soldiers.
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