Spy row, golf game fuel Thai-Cambodia row

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Nov 13, 2009 (AFP) - Cambodian police said Friday they had charged a Thai man with spying on fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, further inflaming a diplomatic crisis between the neighbouring countries.

The spy row blew up as Thaksin played a relaxed round of golf with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, underscoring Bangkok's powerlessness to make Phnom Penh extradite the billionaire and get him to serve a jail term for graft.

Cambodian soldiers in armoured vehicles are received by a welcome ceremony in Siem Reap province on November 13, 2009, as they withdraw from the Preah Vihear temple near the Cambodian-Thai border. (AFP photo)

Siwarak Chothipong, 31, who works for the Cambodia Air Traffic Service, was arrested and charged Thursday with supplying Thailand with details of Thaksin's flight schedule, said Cambodian national police spokesman Kirt Chantharith.

"We sent him to the court yesterday and he was charged with releasing information related to the national security of Cambodia," Kirt Chantharith told AFP.

"He tried to search for information related to the special flight of Thaksin in order to send it out of the country," Kirt Chantharith added, later specifying that the information was sent to Thailand.

Police were investigating whether more people were involved, he added.

Thailand rejected the "malicious" allegations against its citizen.

"It's not true. It is a malicious and false claim," Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters before boarding a flight with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to a regional summit in Singapore.

"Thaksin feels he must destroy Thailand and collaborate with Hun Sen."

Cambodia expelled a top Thai diplomat and Thailand reciprocated on Thursday in a sign of the growing tensions caused by the Cambodian government's appointment of Thaksin earlier this month as an economic adviser.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday to take up the role and Hun Sen on Wednesday rejected Bangkok's formal extradition request for Thaksin.

The countries had already recalled their ambassadors last week.

Thaksin Friday met a group of supporters before playing golf with Hun Sen in the tourist hub of Siem Reap. Hun Sen and Cambodian officials laughed and applauded Thaksin's shot as he teed off first at the luxury Angkor Golf Resort.

He was later due to meet around 50 MPs from Thailand's main pro-Thaksin party, Puea Thai, who had crossed the border Friday, Puea Thai lawmaker Pongpan Sunthornrachai said.

Telecommunications mogul Thaksin hit out at the Thai government during a lecture in the capital Phnom Penh on Thursday, accusing Thai rulers of "false patriotism".

Thaksin has pledged to help impoverished Cambodia understand finance, reduce poverty and lure more foreign investment. Cambodian officials have indicated he would leave the country Friday or Saturday and was not intending to live there.

Abhisit on Thursday ordered a review of two road construction projects with Cambodia that involved loans of more than 1.4 billion baht (42 million dollars) to Phnom Penh, the finance ministry said.

Thailand has already put all talks and cooperation programmes with Cambodia on hold and also tore up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's time in power.

Tensions were already high between the two countries following a series of clashes over disputed territory near an ancient temple and the row threatens to mar a weekend summit of regional leaders with US President Barack Obama.

Twice-elected Thaksin fled Thailand in August 2008, a month before a court sentenced him to two years in jail in a conflict of interest case. He had returned to Thailand just months earlier for the first time since the coup.

But he has retained enormous influence in Thai politics by stirring up protests against the current government, and analysts said that in Hun Sen he had found a new way to push for a return to power.

Source: AFP

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