Cambodia frees convicted Thai spy

PHNOM PENH, Dec 14, 2009 (AFP) - Cambodia released from jail Monday a Thai man convicted and then pardoned for spying on Thailand's fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The release of Siwarak Chothipong came as Thaksin paid a visit to Cambodia that could reignite diplomatic tensions between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), Siwarak Chothipong (C), and Simarak Na Nakhon Panom (R) mother of Siwarak, pose for picture at Hun Sen's residence in Phnom Penh on December 14, 2009. (AFP photo)

Siwarak, 31, a Thai employee of the Cambodia Air Traffic Service, left Prey Sar prison early Monday in a three-car convoy after receiving a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday, witnesses said.

"I feel very happy," Siwarak said in an interview broadcast on Cambodia's CTN television station. "Today I will go back to Thailand... I think I will come back (to Cambodia)".

Siwarak was initially sentenced to seven years in jail for supplying Thaksin's flight schedule to the Thai embassy when the former prime minister visited Cambodia last month.

Thaksin visited Siwarak briefly in prison Sunday, and CTN reported that the tycoon called Siwarak a "political victim of the Thai government" during a Monday meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

After his release, Siwarak went to a ceremony at the home of Hun Sen to be presented with his signed royal pardon.

"From now on Siwarak has freedom and can carry out any business," Hun Sen said at the ceremony, which was also attended by Siwarak's mother and members of Thailand's main opposition party.

Siwarak and his mother were expected to leave Cambodia for Thailand later in the day, said Hun Sen's assistant Eang Sophalleth.

"(Siwarak) is being freed because of the prime minister's concern of the love between mother and son and also the intervention from his excellency Thaksin Shinawatra," Eang Sophalleth told reporters in English.

Later Monday, Thaksin met with Hun Sen at his home in his capacity as economic adviser to the Cambodian government, he added.

Siwarak's arrest deepened a diplomatic crisis over Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser, and its refusal to extradite the ousted leader to Thailand when he travelled to Phnom Penh last month.

As a result of the case Cambodia expelled the first secretary to the Thai embassy and Thailand retaliated in kind.

Both countries had earlier withdrawn their ambassadors in the dispute over Thaksin's appointment.

Angered by Thaksin's presence in Cambodia, Thailand also put all talks and cooperation on hold and has torn up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's tenure as prime minister.

Thaksin, a billionaire telecoms mogul who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and faces a two-year jail term in Thailand for corruption, landed in Phnom Penh Sunday.

The Thai government said it would press anew for his extradition, but Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said such a demand would be "just a waste of time".

Thaksin is living abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid the jail term handed down by a Thai court in absentia in September 2008.

Thaksin won two elections in Thailand and remains an influential political figure at home, stirring up mass protests by his "Red Shirt" supporters against the current government.

Source: AFP

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