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Prisoner exchange a possibility for spies

Cambodia reiterated on Thursday that it cannot pardon convicted Thai spies Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, but simultaneously left the door open for a potential exchange of prisoners.

Speaking at a joint press conference after meeting with his Thai counterpart, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that Surapong has raised the issue of Veera and Ratree, asking if there was the potential for a reduction of their jail terms or a pardon.

“On the issue of pardon, Cambodia has a problem. It is the law that prisoners must serve at least two-thirds of their jail term before the King can give amnesty,” Hor Namhong told reporters. “But I told Surapong that if Thailand requests an exchange of prisoners in a package, then the government will consider.”

Veera, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, also known as the “Yellow Shirts”, and his secretary Ratree were arrested on December 29, 2010, along with five others after crossing the border into Banteay Meanchey province.

The pair are serving sentences of eight and six years , respectively, after being convicted of illegal entry, entering a restricted military base and espionage.

The subject of a potential exchange of prisoners was first broached on September 23 during a visit to Cambodia by Thai Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha. At the time, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that, in addition to Veera and Ratree, there were 37 other Thai prisoners in Cambodian jails.

In June 2009, during a visit by then-Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thai nationals Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading – who were serving life sentences on terrorism charges – were exchanged to serve their jail terms in Thailand.

Pov Bunthoeun, director of the Criminal Affairs Department at the Ministry of Justice, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Justice Ministry spokesman Sam Prachea Manith pointed out yesterday that Thai prisoners have previously been granted amnesty from the King, among them Sivarak Chutipong, engineer at Cambodia Air Traffic Services, who was arrested and sentenced to seven years in jail for leaking information regarding the flight schedule of former Thai Premier’s Thaksin Sinawatra visit to Cambodia.

“I have no details, but prev-iously there were some Thai prisoners that have been granted royal pardons,” he said.

“Some were also exchanged, but I don’t know the process.”

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, visiting research fellow at the Institute of SE Asian studies in Singapore, said via email that, while most Thais have already forgotten about Veera and Ratree, securing their release could score political points for the ruling Pheu Thai party.

“At the end of the day, helping rescue the two Yellow Shirts is like slapping the face of the Yellow Shirt opposition. The Pheu Thai can also claim that it no longer wants to take a revenge against its enemies (which I do not believe).”



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