Thaksin Returns On Eve of Thai Prisoner’s Release

Fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra re­turned to Cambodia yesterday afternoon to visit recently pardoned Thai “spy” Siwarak Chotipong at Prey Sar prison, marking his second visit to Cambodia in a little more than a month.

Mr Siwarak, an engineer em­ployed by Cambodian Air Traffic Services, received a Royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday after being sentenced earlier in the week to seven years in jail for relaying Mr Thaksin’s flight information to a Thai diplomat during the exiled leader’s November visit.

Government lawyer Pal Chan­dara told reporters at Prey Sar yesterday that during their brief meeting, Mr Thaksin told the Thai prisoner that his release was thanks to the efforts of Thailand’s opposition Puea Thai party.

“He said that this was because of the efforts of the Puea Thai party, Mr Thaksin’s efforts to request the Cambodian government to pardon [Mr Siwarak] from prison,” Mr Chandara said.

Mr Siwarak’s lawyer Khieu Sambo told reporters that he was pleased by the visit. “I feel very happy to see the leader, Mr Thak­sin…visit my client.”

Mr Thaksin is linked to the opposition Puea Thai party, which has strong ties with Cambodia’s ruling CPP.

Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said on Friday that both Mr Thaksin and the Puea Thai leadership were involved in efforts to secure Mr Siwarak’s pardon.

Although King Sihamoni makes annual pardons of prisoners each Khmer New Year, the government has maintained that only those who have served at least two-thirds of their sentence are eligible. Mr Siwarak had served less than one percent of his sentence when he was pardoned.

Heng Hak, director of the Interior Ministry’s prisons department, declined to comment yesterday on the break from procedure.

“It is outside my duties,” he said by telephone, adding that he had not yet received formal notice of the pardon.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong also declined to comment, as did Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn, who accompanied Mr Thaksin during his visit to the prison.

Mr Sokhonn, said by telephone that Mr Siwarak would not be released until today, as planned. He also said that Mr Thaksin planned to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit.

“Tomorrow morning, there will be a meeting with Samdech Hun Sen at his home,” Mr Sokhonn said.

Using the Internet service Twitter on Friday, Mr Thaksin said that he planned to visit three Asian countries during this weeklong trip to the region.

Mr Thaksin arrived at the VIP gate of Phnom Penh International Airport at 4:30 pm yesterday, and was inside Prey Sar a half hour later as part of a convoy of 14 vehicles. He waved to reporters from his seat in a Mercedes-Benz sedan, but did not stop to make a comment.

Twenty-five minutes later, the convoy re-emerged from the prison, followed soon after by an SUV carrying Mr Siwarak’s mother, Simarak Na Nakhon Phanom, who had arrived at the prison earlier in the afternoon. Neither Mr Thaksin nor Ms Simarak spoke with reporters.

The relationship between Mr Thaksin and the Cambodian leadership has provoked a breakdown in diplomatic relations between Thailand and Cambodia.

Mr Thaksin’s last visit to Cambodia began on Nov 9, when he made his first official trip as financial advisor to Mr Hun Sen. He was appointed to the position in an Oct 27 decree signed by King Sihamoni, the news of which led Thailand to withdraw its ambassador from Phnom Penh, and Cambodia to respond in kind.

A day after Mr Thaksin’s arrival in Phnom Penh, the Thai government sought Mr Thaksin’s provisional arrest and extradition; the former premier faces two years in prison on corruption charges should he return to Thailand. Cambodia refused, arguing that Mr Thaksin’s conviction was politically motivated and thus was not covered by the extradition agreement between the two countries.

Later the same week, Cambodia declared First Secretary to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh Kamrob Palawatwichai persona non grata, prompting Thailand to reciprocate. Mr Siwarak was arrested the same day and accused of feeding Mr Thaksin’s flight plans to the banished diplomat.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said by telephone that his government had no comment on Mr Thaksin return to Cambodia. “We don’t have any response. This is a private visit,” he said.

He added that the Thai government had not explicitly ordered law enforcement officials to once again seek the arrest and deportation of Mr Thaksin, but stressed that he expected Thai authorities would act according to procedure and repeat the extradition request.

“I believe it is the law in Thailand for the agencies to seek the arrest of any fugitive from the law,” Mr Panitan said. “There is no instruction for the officials to do whatever they are supposed to do…. Officials will follow the procedure but there is no instruction to do that.”


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