Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Friday, 11 December 2009

Cambodia king pardons Thai jailed for spying on Thaksin

Siwarak Chothipong at Phnom Penh municipal court, 8 December
Siwarak was accused of passing details of Mr Thaksin's flight to Thai diplomats

Cambodia's king has pardoned a Thai man jailed for seven years for spying on Thai ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, a Cambodian government spokesman says.

Siwarak Chothipong, 31, was accused of passing Mr Thaksin's private flight details to Thai diplomats while the former PM was on a visit to Cambodia.

Relations between the two nations have been tense since Mr Thaksin was named an economic adviser to Cambodia.

He is wanted in Thailand to serve a prison sentence for corruption.

A government spokesman said Siwarak, an air traffic controller, would be released on Monday to his family and a delegation from Thailand's main opposition party, the AFP news agency reports.

Spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP that King Norodom Sihamoni had signed the royal pardon on Friday morning, following a request on Thursday by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

'Security breach'

In court, Sirawak - an employee of the Cambodia Air Traffic Service - admitted he had relayed flight schedule information to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

Guy De Launey

Guy De Launey, BBC News, Phnom Penh

The pardon initially gives the impression of Cambodia extending the hand of friendship to Thailand after months of mutual name-calling. But on closer inspection it appears to be another sharp jab aimed by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Instead of diplomats from the Thai embassy, Mr Siwarak will be greeted on his release by members of the Puea Thai party loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra.

It seems Cambodia is betting on Mr Thaksin returning to influence in his home country sooner rather than later. A canny strategy, perhaps, if that indeed happens - but not one without its risks.

But he denied stealing any documents.

At his sentencing on Tuesday, the judge said he had breached security by leaking the details of Mr Thaksin's private flights while Mr Thaksin was a guest of the government.

But the seven-year sentence was actually the lightest possible for spying. The maximum would have been 15.

Cambodia's relationship with its larger neighbour has deteriorated since July last year, when it secured World Heritage status for an ancient temple in a disputed border area.

Last month's appointment of Mr Thaksin as a special economic adviser to the government in Phnom Penh made matters worse.

A mutual withdrawal of ambassadors followed, as Thailand accused Cambodia of political interference.

The Thai tycoon was toppled in a 2006 coup and is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption.

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