Updated: King a political tool?

15 12 2009

In Cambodia. That’s the hook for this long account of the current Cambodia-Thailand spy dealings.

Radio Australia has a report (15 December 2009: “Cambodian opposition angered at Thai spy’s pardon”) where a member of Sam Rainsy Party accuses the Cambodian king of being under the thumb of Hun Sen. Son Chhay, “a member of parliament for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, called it ‘strange’ that while previous requests for royal pardons have taken months or years, this politically sensitive one was granted within a week.” He added: “I think the King has no say. He only did what the Prime Minister want him to do.”

Such a statement would land the speaker in jail in Thailand.

Wikipedia describes the Sam Rainsy Party as “a personalist and more or less liberal party in Cambodia. The party is a member of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.” Thailand is represented at CALD by the Democrat Party.

This statement is in a report regarding the pardon and release of Sivarak Chutipong, accused and then convicted of spying for Thailand in Cambodia. His “spying” involved providing details on Thaksin Shinawatra’s flights in Cambodia to a representative of the Thai embassy.

Radio Australia asks Sivarak about Hun Sen and his release and he states: “Yes, I really appreciate his [Hun Sen’s] kindness and help me and let me go out. And I very very appreciate for the kindness of your highness, his majesty of the kingdom of Cambodia that have given me a chance to go back home.”

A spokesperson for Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry stated that the “former Thai spy is the victim of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, because he was ordered by the Thai embassy to do the espionage. And normally embassy receives the order from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the government.” Clearly the Cambodian government is keen to “repay” Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for his earlier personal attacks on Hun Sen.

The Thai government is bumbling along on this case. The Bangkok Post (15 December 2009: “Govt sets conditions for resumption of full relations”). Welcoming the release of Sivarak, the government’s acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the “government may send a first secretary back to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh back if Cambodia wishes to improve bilateral ties, but I cannot confirm that it would be the same person…”. The “same person” would be Kamrob Palawatwichai who was expelled by Cambodia for obtaining Thaksin’s flight plan from Sivarak.

Sivarak has demanded that Kamrob  “tell the truth” about the affair.” Panitan said that Kamrob had tried to contact “Sivarak on his arrival back in Thailand.” Kamrob has not spoken to the media but Panithan said “Kamrob would clarify the matter in the next day or two.” PPT is bemused by the next reported statement: “The reason why he does not clarify the issue now is because his superiors are concerned that he is not a good public speaker…”.

Meanwhile, Sivarak’s mother denounced Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks “for saying the release of her son was staged and in the interests of a certain group of people.” She accuses Buranaj of concocting stories about her son and politics. The pro-government media has even sunk to referring to Sivarak’s deceased father as a Thaksin supporter (as might be expected, the quite reprehensible Sopon Ongara takes this up in The Nation (15 December 2009: “Thaksin revels in shameless Cambodian sham”).

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who earlier claimed that “the incident was a conspiracy by Puea Thai and Thaksin to discredit the government and boost the popularity of the convicted former prime minister” has now said he wants the matter to be closed.

Most news outlets now accept that Sivarak was asked to report to the Thai Embassy on Thaksin. For example, the Bangkok Post (14 December 2009) editorialized: “Sivarak was a classic version of a bystander caught up in a whirlwind of events…. He worked for Cambodia Air Transport Services, a Thai-owned firm despite the name. He knew the arrival details of the flight into Cambodia by Thaksin. Apparently, when asked, he gave those flight details to a senior Thai diplomat, embassy first secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai. Hun Sen or one of his supporters blew that harmless exchange of information into a diplomatic incident – Mr Kamrob was expelled – and Sivarak’s show trial.”

“Harmless” is an interesting description. The current Thai government has plenty of similar “national security” concerns that seem equally “harmless.” But this harmlessness is in the eye of the protagonists.

One thing is sure, the matter is not “harmless” for the protagonists in Thailand’s politics. The Post notes:

Abhisit never has been clear why he chose Mr Kasit as foreign minister early this year. Mr Kasit was a key supporter, a fervent speaker and an unrepentant apologist for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). At his worst moments, the minister personally attacked Hun Sen, and even attempted to defend the indefensible seizure of the two Bangkok airports late last year. He has been called ”the minister from the PAD”, and there have been frequent calls for his dismissal by the opposition.

Mr Kasit should consider his personal options against the national interest. He might conclude that a more politically neutral foreign minister could help the country at this juncture. Foreign governments, most especially Hun Sen’s Cambodia, cannot have a say in the make-up of the Thai government. At the same time, Mr Kasit is an unelected minister, and the needs of the country are far more important than any cabinet member.”

It may be that Kasit is eventually implicated in the demand for information on Thaksin, and that will do him out of his job. As the Post notes, he’s been pretty much a lame duck since he was mysteriously appointed. Sivarak claims that his calls with the Thai Embassy were recorded by the Cambodians. Kasit’s role is certain to be a major point of the opposition’s attack when parliament debates a censure motion against the Abhisit government.

As PPT posted a few days ago, as the “spy saga” has turned sour for the Democrat Party-led government, the tone of discussions about Sivarak’s case has quickly deteriorated.

The Bangkok Post’s Veera  Prateepchaikul (14 december 2009: “Out of the frying pan into the fire?”), who has recently been claiming the whole affair as a red-shirt plot now seems disappointed when he observes: “Surprisingly, only a handful of Puea Thai members were on hand to attend a brief ceremony for the release of the convicted spy at Mr Hun Sen’s residence this morning. These included party spokesman Prompong Theparit and members of Mr Sivarak’s family. Gen Chavalit was conspicuously absent and thus missed the media limelight.  Even Thaksin, who flew into Phnom Penh on Sunday and met Mr Sivarak at the prison, was not seen at the ceremony. He was reported to have given a lecture to Cambodian businessmen and officials.”

He sounds rather lame claiming that the Peua Thai Party people begged off the event because polls “showed that more than half of the respondents believe the spy drama was just a political game.” Chavalit announced the he wasn’t attending some time ago. Lamer still is Sopon Onkgara’s farce-like “journalism” mentioned above.

Sopon, with no evidence, says (yet again) that Thaksin is heading for the poor house (how many times can he claim this?): “… Thaksin should … tell the Cambodians how to avoid being conned into bum deals like the one that’s led to his inability to seek repayments from his partners in Dubai, who made him part with substantial wealth. The collapse of the real-estate market there, and the dwindling clout of the ruling sheikh, has made Thaksin feel less secure in terms of refuge.”

This leads Sopon to speculate  that Thaksin, “his sisters and political cronies [are] to plot their next move in regaining power and the assets now under risk of being confiscated by the government. Of course, the war plan will entail heavy expenses to keep up the morale of his war dogs for the fight.” Sopon, however, seems to feel Abhisit is safe: “Thaksin should know that it will be far more difficult than he earlier believed to dislodge the Abhisit government from power – more so if his cronies still want to topple the monarchy.” Why? “Hundreds of thousands of people thronged Rajdamneon Avenue during His Majesty’s birthday celebration, showing total loyalty and dedication to the King. This serves as strong testimony that the monarchy remains invincible, beyond the ability of Thaksin and his cronies to succeed in their plan.”

If that’s the case, maybe Sopon could write less about the dire threat that Thaksin poses. We suspect, though, that as the censure motion kicks off, Sopon will be off the chain again.

If reader’s have stayed with us on this long post, it will be noticed that we are back to the monarchy, the Thai one this time. It is going to be a long cool season.

Update: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has come to this conclusion (Bangkok Post, 16 December 2009: “Kasit defends ministry, Kamrob in Sivarak case”): “I believe no one would want to experience what Mr Sivarak has been through, and I don’t believe anyone was involved…”. Interestingly, the government seems to now think that this is the best political response in circumstances where the government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Democrat Party were looking increasingly foolish as a censure debate approaches.

According to the Post, Foreign Minister Kasit has issued a statement saying that the “Foreign Ministry congratulated Mr Sivarak and his family on his being granted a royal pardon after being convicted of espionage for supplying information on former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s flight schedule to the Thai government.” He added that “the ministry had never accused Mr Sivarak or his family of staging the case. The ministry and its officials knew well that Mr Sivarak was in trouble and entitled to assistance and had done what they could to help him.”

Kasit also “denied he had ordered Mr Kamrob to use Mr Sivarak as a tool for spying, or to do anything else beyond the duty of a diplomat.” The minister admits that Kamrob “… performed his duty by trying to get information on Thaksin’s whereabouts and report it to the Foreign Ministry, so that it could coordinate with the Office of the Attorney-General to seek the extradition of the fugitive former prime minister…”. The minister is not keen for Kamrob to speak on the affair.


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