ATHAI man convicted of espionage last week was officially released from Prey Sar prison on Monday amid a visit to Cambodia by fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and an intervention by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sivarak Chutipong, an airport engineer arrested last month for leaking information about Thaksin’s flight schedule during the ex-premier’s November visit to Cambodia, was sentenced to seven years in prison by Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week. After receiving a Royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday, however, Sivarak attended a ceremony at Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence Monday to celebrate his release.
“I feel very happy that I have freedom again. I really appreciate [Hun Sen’s] kindness in helping me,” Sivarak said, adding that he may return to Cambodia after a trip home to Thailand.
“From now on, Sivarak has freedom to carry out any business,” Hun Sen declared as he presented the 31-year-old with a copy of the pardon.
Following the ceremony, also attended by Sivarak’s mother and four members of Thailand’s Thaksin-associated Puea Thai party, Hun Sen held a closed-door meeting with Thaksin.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unsure of the duration of Thaksin’s visit, but said the onetime telecommunications mogul was due to meet with Cambodian officials in his capacity as government economics adviser.
Thaksin went into self-imposed exile last year to avoid a jail term for corruption, following his ouster in a 2006 coup. Thailand demanded his extradition when he visited Cambodia last month, though this was immediately rebuffed, with the Cambodian government arguing that Thaksin was prosecuted for political reasons.
Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi welcomed Sivarak’s release, but said it would not necessarily augur a restoration of full diplomatic ties. Thailand withdrew its ambassador to Phnom Penh last month in protest of the Kingdom’s advisory appointment of Thaksin, and Cambodia followed suit shortly afterwards.
“I think it’s a separate issue between the overall relations between Thailand and Cambodia and the issue of ... Sivarak,” Thani said.
Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for Hun Sen, said Sivarak was being freed “because of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s concern for the love between a mother and son and also the intervention from his excellency Thaksin Shinawatra”.
Eang Sophalleth added that though it was Sivarak who faced criminal charges, the Thai government bears responsibility for his ordeal. Sivarak told the Municipal Court that in leaking Thaksin’s flight information, he was acting on a request from Kamrob Palawatwichai, the first secretary of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, who was expelled from Cambodia for his involvement in the case.
“Without any request, Sivarak would not be victimised like this,” Eang Sophalleth said.
Thaksin also reportedly told Hun Sen that Sivarak was a “political victim of the Thai government”, according to CTN television.
Thani argued, however, that in staging his controversial visits to Cambodia, Thaksin himself was the root of Sivarak’s troubles.
“In looking at this issue, one would have to take in the whole picture and see how the whole episode started,” Thani said.
IN DATES Thaksin ramps up Cambodia-Thailand row
At the 15th ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, Prime Minister Hun Sen compares deposed former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Myanmar dissident icon Aung San Suu Kyi and proposes appointing him as an economics adviser. On October 27, King Norodom Sihamoni signs a Royal decree making the appointment official.
As news breaks of Thaksin’s appointment, Thailand withdraws its ambassador to Phnom Penh in protest against what it calls an insult to its judicial system. Cambodia responds by withdrawing its ambassador in Bangkok. On November 10, Thaksin arrives in Cambodia, where he is warmly received by Hun Sen and government officials.
Sivarak Chutipong is arrested in Phnom Penh on charges that he passed Thaksin’s flight information to Kamrob Palawatwichai, the first secretary of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. Kamrob is declared persona non grata and expelled from Cambodia. Thailand responds by expelling the first secretary of the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok.
Sivarak is sentenced to seven years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being found guilty of spying for leaking Thaksin’s flight schedule to the Thai embassy. On December 14, following a Royal pardon by King Norodom Sihamoni that Cambodian officials say was brokered by Thaksin and the Thai opposition, Sivarak returns home to Thailand.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP