King pardons Thai man jailed for spying

King pardons Thai man jailed for spying

King Norodom Sihamoni has pardoned a Thai man jailed for seven years for spying on fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a visit to Phnom Penh, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Friday.

Sivarak Chutipong, 31, an engineer who had been working in Phnom Penh for seven years at Cambodia Air Traffic Services, will be released from prison Monday to his family and a delegation from Thailand's main opposition party, Puea Thai, with which Thaksin is associated.

"The king just signed it this morning," Khieu Kanharith said, explaining that the royal pardon was issued after Prime Minister Hun Sen requested it Thursday.

"This morning Hun Sen said that if the man wants to continue working in Cambodia, he is welcome," he added.

Sivarak received a seven year jail term and a 10 million riel (US$2402) fine in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday for passing Thaksin’s flight schedule to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. At his trial, Sivarak denied stealing any documents and told the court that although he had informed the Thai embassy's first secretary by telephone of a flight arrival, he had not been aware that Thaksin was on board.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters the pardon was a "good sign" for relations between the two sides.

"I have received an initial report of a royal pardon, which was an internal matter for Cambodia, but the Thai government congratulates Sivarak's family," Panitan said.

"The pardon is a good sign as Thai people have been very focused on this case and it could ease bilateral relations with Cambodia," he added.

Thai diplomats and the defendant's mother, seen crying in court, had attended Sivarak's trial.

Cambodia expelled the first secretary of Thailand's embassy in Phnom Penh after alleging that Sivarak had passed information to the diplomat. Thailand expelled the first secretary of the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok shortly afterwards, with the countries having already withdrawn their respective ambassadors in the dispute over Thaksin's appointment as government economics adviser.

Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup. His visit to Cambodia last month was the closest he has come to his native country since fleeing last year to avoid a jail term for corruption charges.

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