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09BANGKOK3188 THAI-CAMBODIAN SPAT: THAKSIN RETURNS TO CAMBODIA TO TAKE CREDIT FOR PARDON OF THAI, LATEST ILLEGAL LOGGING INCIDENT

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“240310”,”12/17/2009 9:54″,”09BANGKOK3188″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

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SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2019

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PBTS, TH, CB

SUBJECT: THAI-CAMBODIAN SPAT: THAKSIN RETURNS TO CAMBODIA

TO TAKE CREDIT FOR PARDON OF THAI, LATEST ILLEGAL LOGGING

INCIDENT

 

Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Robert D. Griffiths, reas

ons 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

1. (C) Summary: Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

December 13 returned to Phnom Penh to take credit for the

by-all-accounts orchestrated release of Siwarak Chutipong, a

Thai engineer who had been imprisoned for reportedly sharing

flight details for Thaksin\’s November visit to Cambodia with

the Thai Embassy. Major General (ret.) Sornchai Montriwat, a

close associate of opposition party leader Chavalit

Yongchaiyudh, confirmed to us that public speculation was

correct that the pardon of Siwarak was a continuation of the

closely managed effort by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

and Thaksin to pressure the government of Prime Minister

Abhisit Vejjajiva. Contacts have recently indicated to us

that the Thai-Cambodian relationship is not as strained as it

appears publicly, yet a December 16 public statement by

government spokesperson Panitan Wattanayakorn clearly

illustrates that much will need be done before relations

return to normal. Panitan called on Cambodia to cease

interference in the Thai judicial system and in Thai politics

and to annul Thaksin\’s appointment as economic advisor to

Phnom Penh. While the two governments continue to quarrel,

the latest of three armed clashes involving Cambodians

illegally logging in Thailand took place, leaving one dead.

End Summary.

 

2. (C) Comment: Nearly all Thai officials and pundits we have

talked to recently say that Thaksin\’s Cambodia gambit is an

extension of Thai domestic politics. Though Thaksin\’s image

within Thailand likely risks being tarnished if his visits

leave him appearing too closely aligned with Cambodia, the

former Prime Minister\’s visits serve his apparent goal of

socializing Thai audiences to the idea of his presence in a

neighboring country. In addition, the visits also appear to

be part of a strategy to pressure Prime Minister Abhisit at a

time when the Thai Supreme Court for Political Office Holders

is expected to rule soon on the fate of 76 billion baht of

assets seized from Thaksin by the Assets Examination

Committee due to accusations that Thaksin illegally enriched

himself while Prime Minister. End comment.

 

THAKSIN RETURNS TO CAMBODIA AS PART OF A MANAGED DRAMA

——————————————— ———

 

3. (U) Fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

returned December 13 to Cambodia to visit Siwarak Chutipong,

a Thai national who had been sentenced to seven years in

prison following his November 12 arrest for reportedly

leaking information about Thaksin\’s flight schedule during a

November visit to Cambodia, and to resume duties as an

economic advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Siwarak had been sentenced December 8 to seven years in

prison by Phnom Penh Municipal Court but received a royal

pardon December 11. Siwarak had been working as engineer for

the Cambodian Air Traffic Services prior to his arrest.

 

SIWARAK A VICTIM OF POLITICS, NOT INTERNATIONAL ESPIONAGE

——————————————— ————

 

4. (C) Siwarak\’s case has been widely viewed by the Thai

media and our contacts as a continuation of the Thai

political divide that pits Thaksin and his red-shirt

supporters against the Democrat-led government. Siwarak

worked for a company controlled by Thai businessman Samart, a

long-time competitor to Thaksin\’s A.I.S. and currently one of

the key financial backers of Phumjai Thai defacto leader

Newin Chidchob, who defected from the pro-Thaksin camp in

December 2008.

 

5. (C) MGEN Sornchai Montriwat, a Puea Thai MP and close

advisor to Puea Thai Party leader General Chavalit

Yongchaiyudh, told us during a December 9 meeting that he had

not slept the night before due to the case. A bleary-eyed

Sornchai said he had fielded calls from Hun Sen, Cambodian

Defense Minister Tea Banh, and Siwarak\’s mother as

discussions proceeded on how to script the pardon. According

to Sornchai, Hun Sen and Tea Banh wanted Chavalit to file the

pardon request immediately after the Cambodian court had

sentenced the Thai defendant. Sornchai reluctantly woke

 

BANGKOK 00003188 002 OF 003

 

Chavalit up in the middle of the night, after telling Hun Sen

and Tea Banh that he could not make commitments himself.

Sornchai, who had been negotiating as the point man between

Hun Sen and Chavalit, told us that Chavalit had not wanted

his name at the top of the pardon petition signature list.

In the end, Hun Sen credited Thaksin for the pardon;

according to December 14 press reports.

 

6. (C) Sornchai told us December 16 that he had led the Puea

Thai team of MPs to Phnom Penh December 14 to bring Siwarak

back to Thailand and that the group had met with Hun Sen for

one hour. Regarding the incident which led to accusations of

spying by Siwarak, a conviction, and then a pardon, Sornchai

told us Hun Sen had said that the event had been a

coincidence and the Thai air traffic controller was unlucky.

Sornchai\’s account of Hun Sen\’s assessment that the Siwarak

incident was ancillary to Thai-Cambodian relations was backed

up publicly December 14 by Thani Thongphakdi, the Thai MFA\’s

Deputy Spokesperson, who said that the RTG welcomed the

release of Siwarak, but that this act would not necessarily

lead to a restoration of full diplomatic ties.

 

RELATIONS REMAIN OFF TRACK

————————–

 

7. (U) Despite the recent worsening of bilateral relations,

signs point to halting attempts to improve relations. Thai

Government Spokesperson Panitan Wattanayakorn said publicly

December 16 that the Cambodian government had expressed its

intention to repair bilateral relations via the return of

Ambassadors to the two capitals. Panitan cautioned that the

first steps to restoring normal diplomatic relations must be

taken by Cambodia, as Phnom Penh would need to stop

interfering with the Thai judicial system, cease meddling in

Thai domestic politics, and revoke the appointment of Thaksin

as an economic advisor to the Cambodian government. Panitan

did suggest that the two sides may return the First

Secretaries of their respective Embassies, who had been

expelled after the Siwarak arrest, as a first step in

normalizing relations. In contrast to the Thai government\’s

strident reaction to Thaksin\’s November visit to Cambodia,

Panitan December 13 downplayed the effect of Thaksin\’s second

visit. Panitan said the RTG considered the trip a matter

between Thaksin and Cambodia.

 

8. (U) Later December 16, Hun Sen was quoted publicly as

saying that frayed relations with Thailand could not be

normalized while the Abhisit government was in power, and he

blamed the troubled relations on the conflict over disputed

territory near the Preah Vihear temple. Hun Sen reportedly

said that a new government in Thailand was necessary before

the Thais would be willing to send an Ambassador back to

Phnom Penh.

 

9. (C) While relations between Thailand and Cambodia are

strained; contacts have suggested to us recently that the

state of affairs is not as serious as described in the media.

Thai National Intelligence Agency XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXX told us in late November that it was his personal

view that the ongoing Thai-Cambodian confrontation was all

about Thai domestic politics. Hun Sen had placed a bet on

one side in the ongoing Thai domestic political conflict,

XXXXX said, but Hun Sen would eventually make a deal with

whoever was in power in Bangkok in order to protect his own

interests. XXXXX predicted that Hun Sen would ultimately

lose his bet because Thaksin would not be coming back.

 

LATEST LOGGING CLASH LEAVES ONE DEAD

————————————

 

10. (C) An unpublicized December 6 incident that involved

rangers (taharn praan), police, and forestry officials on the

Thai side, and Cambodian loggers and possibly some

moonlighting Cambodian police or soldiers on the Cambodian

side, resulted in the death of one Cambodian on the way to

the hospital. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX passed us an

after-incident report, complete with pictures of Thai

security officials\’ confrontation with Cambodians conducting

illegal logging along the border in the vicinity of the

Kantharalak District of Sri Sa Ket Province. XXXXX told us

 

BANGKOK 00003188 003 OF 003

 

that Cambodian soldiers were protecting the loggers when

shots were exchanged between the two sides, resulting in the

death of one of the loggers, who suffered from shotgun and

grenade wounds. Patches confiscated from the Cambodians

involved suggested involvement by security personnel, who

were presumably moonlighting in this other role. A saw

machine, 14 processed logs, and carts were also seized. The

logger\’s body was repatriated December 7.

 

11. (C) This armed conflict involving illegal logging inside

Thailand by Cambodians was the third such incident which has

come to our attention in recent months. A September 11 clash

between Thai security officials and Cambodian loggers on the

Thai side of the border resulted in the death of one

Cambodian. Some Cambodian NGOs and media alleged that that

the logger had been burned alive by Thai forces, but the

initial reports had the location of the incident in the wrong

province, and we could not find any corroborating evidence to

substantiate Cambodian allegations. XXXXXXXX told us that

he had been able to confirm that the Cambodian had been shot

to death during a confrontation with Thai taharn praan, but

not burned alive.

 

12. (C) We were able to confirm XXXXX account separately

with XXXXX, the XXXXXX of the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXX, who is likely the province\’s XXXXXX human rights

advocate. XXXX had taken three trips to the border to

inquire about this case, and a clear picture had emerged that

no one had been burned. According to XXXXX, both Thai and

Cambodian contacts reported that an illegal logger had been

killed on the Thai side of the border, and Cambodian contacts

were sure the perpetrators had been dressed in the black

outfits of the Thai rangers.

 

13. (C) XXXXX stressed to us that while Thai police and

military sources admitted the killing took place, they

adamantly denied anyone was burned either before or after the

fact. Such an act would trigger retaliation and no one

wanted to see that. Killing illegal loggers was one thing,

XXXXX suggested, but burning someone would constitute an

unimaginable act of barbarism. Separately, the regional

Internal Security Operations Command reluctantly confirmed to

us that a Cambodian had been killed, but stressed that there

had been no burning involved in the incident.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:32 am

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