King Grants Royal Pardon To Thai ‘Spy’

King Norodom Sihamoni issued a Royal pardon on Friday to Si­warak Chotipong, the Thai engineer sentenced on Tuesday to sev­en years in prison for spying, government spokesman and Infor­mation Minister Khieu Kanharith said.

Mr Siwarak will not be released from prison until Monday morning, when Prime Minister Hun Sen will meet with the Thai national and his mother in a formal ceremony, Mr Kanharith said.

Mr Siwarak, an employee of Cambodian Air Traffic Services, was arrested after passing information about the flight schedule of fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to a Thai diplomat during Mr Thaksin’s highly publicized visit to Cambodia last month.

Mr Thaksin has strong links to the Thai opposition party Puea Thai, and both he and the party leadership were involved in obtaining Mr Siwarak’s pardon.

Asked if the pardon was political, Mr Kanharith said: “It is a humanitarian act firstly, and secondly it is because of the good relationship between parties as well as the personal relationship between Thaksin and Samdech [Hun Sen]. We have an understanding between each other.”

Mr Kanharith said a Puea Thai delegation would also attend the release ceremony on Monday, but a party spokesman in Bang­kok said that such an announcement was premature, and that Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the head of the party, had not yet decided whether to send a delegation to Cambodia.

The Puea Thai spokesman, who declined to give his name, had harsh words yesterday for the Thai government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, calling its approach to the Siwarak case “facetious” and “disruptive.”

“They have been really, really silent and let Mr Siwarak hang out in the wind, in prison,” he claimed. “It’s made it a difficult process to negotiate between the governments.”

“We feel like we get along with our neighbors better than the [Thai] government,” he added.

The Puea Thai Party on Friday also called on both Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and Kamrob Palawatwichai, the former first secretary of the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, to resign from their positions because of their involvement in the Siwarak case.

Mr Siwarak said in court that he had passed Mr Kamrob information after the diplomat called him to request Mr Thaksin’s flight plan, and Mr Siwarak’s mother has openly blamed Mr Kamrob for her son’s plight.

Thani Thongphakdi, the deputy spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry, declined to respond at length to Puea Thai’s allegations, saying that they had “no relevance to the events.”

“I’m a bit at a loss as to why they would say that, in that the ministry has always stood ready to assist Mr Siwarak in whatever he needed,” he added.

The Thai Foreign Ministry has defended Mr Kamrob’s actions this week, maintaining that his request for information from Mr Siwarak was within the bounds of his duties as a diplomat.

Mr Thani said that although the ministry had helped Mr Siwarak obtain a lawyer and arranged for his mother to travel to Cambodia, it did not play an active role in obtaining his pardon because his family did not ask the government for help.

However, Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for Thai premier Abhisit, emphasized on Friday that Mr Siwarak’s pardon was a multilateral effort and not just the work of the Puea Thai Party.

“It was not done single-handedly by anyone,” he said. “The Foreign Ministry from day one has been working hard to facilitate his release. For any other parties who are helping them, we thank them. Our government officials did their part.”

Mr Panitan declined to comment on the strong ties between the Puea Thai Party and the Cambodian government.

“That’s up to the Cambodians,” he said.



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