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Thai national arrested for espionage

A Thai national has been arrested and accused of espionage for allegedly stealing the flight schedule of fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, amid an ongoing row between Thailand and Cambodia over Thaksin’s appointment as government economics adviser, Phnom Penh police and court officials said.

Sok Phal, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Central Security Department, said 31-year-old Siwarak Chotipong, an employee at Cambodia Air Traffic Services Co., was arrested by officers from the Central Security Department at his office on Wednesday.

“He stole the special flight schedule of Mr. Thaksin and handed it to the first secretary of Thai Embassy,” Sok Phal said. “It is not his duty to do so. What he did was beyond his responsibility. He must face legal action.”

On Thursday, the Cambodian government expelled the first secretary at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, with Thailand responding in kind.

Cambodia Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong would not confirm whether the expulsion was related to the airport case.

“It’s a case of the court. It’s the court’s affair,” he said, adding that the Thai first secretary had “performed his role contrary to his position.”

Sok Phal, however, said the first secretary was directly involved and had been expelled as a result.

"He ordered the man to copy the schedule of Thaksin's return flight, and that's why he was expelled," Sok Phal said.

In Bangkok, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya forcefully rejected the espionage accusations.

"It's not true. It is a malicious and false claim," Kasit said. "Thaksin feels he must destroy Thailand and collaborate with Hun Sen."

Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup and self-exiled last year to avoid a jail term for corruption charges. Last week, Cambodia announced Thaksin’s official appointment as government economics adviser, prompting Thailand to withdraw its ambassador to Phnom Penh and Cambodia to reciprocate.

Phnom Penh court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said Sivarak is now in pre-trial detention at Prey Sar prison and is being charged under article 19 of the 2005 Law on Archives, which covers offenses related to matters of national defence, security or public order. If convicted, Sivarak faces a jail term of between seven and 15 years and a fine of between 5 and 25 million riels (US$1198-5990).

Police are now investigating whether more people were involved with the plot, Sok Phal said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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