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Thaksin returns to see spy’s release

091214_01
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (left) speaks Sunday with Sivarak Chutipong, a Thai national convicted of spying who was granted a Royal pardon and is expected to be released today.

Fugitive former Thai premier meets with Hun Sen as Bangkok prepares to file for extradition.

DEPOSED Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Cambodia on Sunday, just weeks after his inaugural visit to the Kingdom as government economics adviser touched off a row between Thailand and Cambodia that plunged relations between the two countries to their lowest point in years.

After arriving by private jet at Phnom Penh International Airport, Thaksin left promptly for Prey Sar prison, where he met with Sivarak Chutipong, a 31-year-old Thai engineer with Cambodia Air Traffic Services. Sivarak received a Royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday following his conviction last week for spying after he leaked Thaksin’s flight schedule during the fugitive billionaire’s November visit.

Sivarak is scheduled to be released from prison today, government lawyer Pal Chandara said, and will subsequently meet with Thaksin and Prime Minister Hun Sen. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government would also receive a delegation of three parliamentarians and the spokesman of Thailand’s opposition Puea Thai party, with which Thaksin is linked.

“This is to show the good atmosphere and the good ties between the Puea Thai party and the Cambodian government,” Pal Chandara said. “It was an effort from the Puea Thai party that helped free Sivarak.”

Sivarak’s release, Phay Siphan said, “shows the openness of the Royal government to Thailand as a nation.” Phay Siphan was unsure of how long Thaksin would stay, but said he will likely hold an economics seminar during his time in Cambodia, as he did last month.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn said Bangkok would again submit a request for Thaksin’s extradition, despite Cambodia’s round rejection of a similar request last month. The Cambodian government said in November that it considered Thaksin’s prosecution illegitimate and “politically motivated”. Thaksin was toppled in a 2006 coup and went into exile last year to avoid a jail term for corruption.

“The Thai government will follow the same procedure as last time. When people wanted for crimes in this country travel to a neighbouring country we will ask them to detain and request an extradition,” Panitan said. Asked if Thaksin’s return to Cambodia would further damage bilateral relations, Panitan called the trip “a matter of … Thaksin and Cambodia”.

Thailand withdrew its ambassador to Phnom Penh last month to protest Thaksin’s appointment as economics adviser to the Cambodian government and personal adviser to Hun Sen, and Cambodia responded in kind.

Cambodia later expelled Kamrob Palawatwichai, the first secretary of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, for his alleged involvement in the theft of Thaksin’s flight schedule, and Thailand responded by kicking out Kamrob’s counterpart in Bangkok.

Though he risks a nationalist backlash in Thailand if he appears too closely aligned with Hun Sen, Thaksin’s high-profile visits are part of a strategy to keep up the pressure on the government of current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said Andrew Walker of the Australian National University.

Hun Sen has publicly expressed his enmity toward Abhisit, and Sivarak’s stage-managed release “is clearly very much for the Thai domestic audience”, Walker said, as the Cambodian government aims to embarrass and discredit the neighbouring administration.

As far as Thaksin is concerned, Walker added, “any publicity is good publicity, and as long as he keeps himself in the public eye, that destabilises the Abhisit government”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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