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Prisoner exchange expected

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Prime Minister Hun Sen shakes hands with Thailand’s Defence Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha last week.

PRISONER exchanges between Phnom Penh and Bangkok could take place “very soon”, a Thai government spokeswoman said yesterday, after Prime Minster Hun Sen reportedly urged Thailand’s Defence Minister to begin negotiations during talks last week.

Thai government spokeswoman Titima Chaisang could not provide exact details of when an exchange would take place or which prisoners would be repatriated, but said the Thai Ministry of Justice had begun examining in detail how to circumvent existing legal impediments.

At the centre of speculation around a possible prisoner swap are jailed Thai “Yellow Shirt” nationalist Veera Somkwamkid and his associate Ratree Pipatanapaiboon. They were given eight and six-year jail sentences in Cambodia in February for espionage charges.

In June, Cambodian Ung Kimthai was arrested in Thailand on charges of spying. He was subsequently sentenced to two years and three months in jail for being an accomplice to suspected spy Ya Pao in September.

“We want to have a win-win [situation], we want to help Veera and Ratree and also we want to have the good relationship between the two countries and Samdach Hun Sen understands what is going on. The answer [to when an exchange will happen] is very soon,” said Titima Chaisang.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal spokesman Eang Sophalleth said yesterday that Thai Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha had asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to consider negotiating a Royal Pardon for Veera and Ratree.

“Related to the request to pardon the two Thai prisoners, Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] urged [Yuthasak} to open negotiations for the exchange prisoners,” he said, adding that another 38 Thai nationals remain imprisoned in Cambodia.

Titima Chaisang said though Cambodia and Thailand had an agreement for transferring prisoners, there was no legal exchange treaty between the two countries.

Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at the University of New South Wales, said the absence of such a treaty would make it easier to negotiate exchanges because such agreements required a “huge formal legal process” including appeals.

“Normally there is an extradition treaty or a legal mutual assistance program. In the absence of it they can just jerry-rig it, just decide who will be exchanged,” he said.

Both governments stood to gain domestically from a prisoner swap by demonstrating they looked after the interests of their citizens while deflating potential tensions both at home and in bilateral relations, he said.

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