Cambodian court convicts Thai man of spying in Thaksin case

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dec 8, 2009

Phnom Penh - A Thai national was convicted of espionage by a Cambodian court Tuesday and sentenced to seven years in jail in a case linked to the controversial November visit to Cambodia by Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Siwarak Chothipong, 31, was arrested in mid-November after the authorities accused him of passing on Thaksin's flight details to a diplomat at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. At the time Siwarak was employed by the company that handles Cambodia's air traffic, Cambodian Air Traffic Services (CATS).

Municipal court prosecutor Sok Roeun told the German Press Agency dpa that Siwarak was also fined 10 million riel (2,500 dollars) in addition to his jail term.

A spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry said the sentencing was a matter for the court.

'And right now we have not had any news from Thailand [about the ruling],' said spokesman Koy Kuong.

Siwarak's arrest came during the surprise visit to Cambodia by Thaksin, who was appointed as an economic adviser to the Cambodian government and a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The news of those appointments riled Bangkok, and relations between the two nations plunged to their lowest point in years.

Thaksin has an outstanding jail term against him in Thailand, but Cambodia rejected an extradition request filed by Bangkok during his visit.

In the diplomatic row surrounding the former Thai premier's visit, both nations recalled their ambassadors and expelled senior embassy staff. Neither ambassador has yet returned to their post.
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Thai gov't to help man sentenced to jail in Cambodia: Senior official

BANGKOK, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- The Thai government will attempt to help the Thai engineer, who was found guilty of spying and sentenced to seven years in jail in Cambodia, Chavanon Intharakomalsut, the secretary to Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Tuesday.

Chavanon's statement was made after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled against Thai engineer Siwarak Chutipong, Thai News Agency reported.

The next step in bid to help Siwarak will depend on a decision to be made by Siwarak's mother, Mrs. Simarak Na Nakhon Phanom, Chavanon said.

His mother can either make an appeal or seek a royal pardon for Siwarak, while the Thai government will be willing to help, Chavanon said.

Siwarak, who worked as the engineer at Cambodia Air Traffic Services Co Ltd, has been arrested in Cambodia from Nov. 11, according to an arrest warrant of prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipality Court.

Cambodia had charged Siwarak of having had confidential information affecting Cambodia's national security.
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Spy cases raises tension between Cambodia, Thailand

Tuesday Dec. 8, 2009
The Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Thai man was ordered to serve seven years in prison for spying on Thailand's former prime minister while he was in Cambodia as a guest of the government, a case that threatens to worsen a diplomatic feud between the two neighbours.

The trial in the capital of Phnom Penh follows Cambodia's decision last month to name former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra its special economic adviser. The appointment and Thaksin's subsequent visit to Cambodia angered the government in Bangkok and resulted in a recall of ambassadors from both sides.

Thai national Siwarak Chothipong, an employee of the Cambodia Air Traffic Service, which manages flights in the country, was accused of stealing Thaksin's flight schedule before his Nov. 10 arrival and sending it to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh. Thaksin stayed five days, getting red-carpet treatment as he talked to Cambodian economists.

Siwarak, 31, was arrested Nov. 12 and charged with stealing information that could impact national security.

Municipal Court Judge Ke Sakhan ruled that Thaksin's flight information was confidential and sharing it was a breach of security protocol for dignitaries.

"Thaksin is an adviser to Cambodia's government and Cambodia has the obligation to provide him security," the judge said. He ordered Siwarak to pay a 10 million riel (US$2,500) fine and serve seven years in prison, the lowest possible for the spying charge, which carries a penalty of seven to 15 years behind bars.

Siwarak acknowledged earlier in court that he saw the flight schedule and passed the details on to Thai embassy First Secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai who was later expelled from the country. But he denied stealing the document.

"I took a look at the flight schedule and made a phone call to Kamrob about the flight schedule," Siwarak told the court. "But I didn't get a copy of the flight schedule and hand it over to anyone."

Two other employees from the Cambodia Air Traffic Service testified that Siwarak asked them about the flight schedule.

Thaksin went into self-imposed exile last year before a Thai court found him guilty of violating a conflict of interest law and sentenced him to two years in prison. He had served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted in a military coup after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the monarchy.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have repeatedly taken to the streets since then to spar over who has the right to rule the country, sometimes sparking violence.

Thaksin's visit to Cambodia led to allegations he was trying to ignite a new political crisis from across the border.

Critics, including Thailand's government, have portrayed Thaksin as a traitor for accepting the Cambodian appointment and have lambasted Cambodia for hosting him while he is a fugitive. Relations have already been roiled by several deadly skirmishes over the past year and a half over land surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple.
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CAMBODIA: Pepper Farmers Get Ready for their Champagne Moment

A woman dries Kampot peppercorns in the sun near Kampong Trach town, Kampot province, southern Cambodia. (Credit:Robert Carmichael/IPS)

By Robert Carmichael

PHNOM PENH, Dec 8 (IPS) - Under a shady trellis of rice sacks in the province of Kampot in southern Cambodia, 42-year-old Nuon Yan tends his crop of pepper vines.

Small-scale farming is a tough occupation, with prices and weather unpredictable and the cost of inputs high. But Nuon Yan knows a good idea when he sees one. When he heard about an opportunity to double the money he was making from black pepper, he jumped at it.

That opportunity is to register the prized variety of pepper that he and neighbouring farmers grow – known as Kampot Pepper – for Geographical Indicator, or GI, status. Kampot pepper is highly regarded by some chefs in Europe and the United States as one of the world’s finest pepper varieties.

If the term GI sounds unfamiliar, the concept itself is much better understood, says Jean-Marie Brun, an advisor at GRET, a French non- governmental organisation involved in getting Kampot pepper its GI status.

The most famous GI product is champagne. In fact, says Brun, GI is what makes champagne champagne rather than sparkling wine. Unless bubbly is grown in a specific part of France to specific rules and meets a certain quality standard, it may not be marketed as champagne.

That, in a nutshell, is GI, and it will work exactly the same way with Kampot pepper. The added advantage is that Nuon Yan and the 130 other members of the newly formed Kampot Pepper Producers’ Association (KPPA) – most of whom are also farmers – decide on the rules and the quality standard.

Brun says any grower who meets the requirements can join the association, and once GI is registered it is protected under World Trade Organisation rules.

"The right to use the name Kampot pepper once it is registered belongs to anybody that complies with a certain number of requirements," says Brun. "The stakeholders decide on the delimitation of the area, how it should be produced and the quality criteria."

Brun explains that farmers like Nuon Yan, who currently earns 2.50 U.S. dollars per kilo for his crop, will likely double their income when GI status is confirmed.

Complying with GI does bring added costs, but Brun says these typically equate to five percent of the extra income. In the case of Kampot pepper, and because it is early days for the KPPA, the costs of compliance are higher than that – currently around 10 percent – but they will decline as more members join.

Farmers like Nuon Yan benefit as a direct result of providing a product that consumers can buy safe in the knowledge that it has attained a certain quality standard and is what it claims to be. But that assurance is worth nothing unless someone ensures the members abide by their own standards.

That policing role is performed by the KPPA itself and an independent auditor. The KPPA is based in a small room in a shady grove five kilometres outside the provincial town of Kampong Trach in Kampot province. KPPA deputy head, En Trou, explains that growers have had a tough time in the past.

"Because they were not able to market Kampot pepper and didn’t have much money, the farmers faced many problems trying to earn enough to support their families," he says. "We also found that other growers were using the name Kampot pepper on their products."

But the advent of GI status, which will be confirmed in a matter of weeks, should start to resolve that. En Trou is confident that the future will be brighter for the association’s members, who currently harvest 14 tons of pepper annually.

"I am hopeful that in another five years we will have increased the number of producers to 150, and be selling between 20 and 30 tons a year," he says.

The man in charge on the government side is Var Roth San, who heads the intellectual property department at the Ministry of Commerce. Among the powers wielded by his department is the power to revoke the GI registration for Kampot pepper should the independent auditor find the KPPA is shirking its role to maintain standards.

"The association must form control within themselves to keep the quality good," he points out. "Therefore the price of GI products increases. If [there is] no control within themselves or by an international organisation, who will believe [that their product is high quality]?"

Var Roth San says getting GI status for Kampot pepper links directly with the strategy of government and donors to reduce widespread rural poverty. Around 80 percent of the country’s people live in rural areas, and more than half the eight million-strong labour force is involved in agriculture, so boosting rural livelihoods is critical for Cambodia.

"We want to create jobs, and we want our poor to get more money from their work in the rural area," he says. "GI law is one thing that will help the poor in the rural areas."

Although GI for Kampot pepper will benefit at most a couple of hundred farmers, the government plans to roll out the initiative for other products too, including palm sugar from Kampong Speu province and honey from the northeastern province of Ratanakkiri. But Kampot pepper will be the first.

Back on his one-fifth hectare pepper plot in Kampot province, Nuon Yan explains that his rice crop has to date generated more income than the pepper he harvests from his 300 pepper vines. Last year he made around 400 U.S dollars from selling 150 kilograms of pepper.

But he is clearly banking on Kampot pepper’s potential.

"If I can sell my pepper for a higher price, then it is possible that one day I could earn more from pepper than from rice," he says.

Nuon Yan has an eye on that future possibility. He will deposit some of the extra money he will earn in the bank and put the rest towards buying more pepper vines. He and the other members of the association are banking that Kampot pepper’s GI status will result in a more secure future for them and their families.
READ MORE - CAMBODIA: Pepper Farmers Get Ready for their Champagne Moment

China says investigating Uighur asylum case

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it was investigating an apparent asylum request lodged with the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by a group of Uighurs in Cambodia.

Two of the 22 Uighurs who sought asylum through the UNHCR offices in Phnom Penh say they witnessed security forces killing and beating Uighur demonstrators in the far western Chinese city of Urumqi on July 5, the Uighur American Association said.

On that day, demonstrations in Urumqi by Uighurs protesting against fatal attacks on Uighur workers in South China turned into a violent rampage in which 197 people died, mostly Han Chinese. Han Chinese crowds launched revenge attacks against Uighur neighbourhoods two days later.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said officials were investigating reports of the asylum claims.

"Related departments are at present looking into the situation," she told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"We have a good cooperative relationship with Cambodia on every level," Jiang added. "We hope the international community can enhance cooperation in the fight against terrorism."

China often accuses militants of formenting ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, though Beijing has provided no evidence so far that the 22 Uighurs in Cambodia are connected with such groups.

The UNHCR in Phnom Penh declined comment.

But a foreign human rights activist, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters the group would submit asylum applications to both the Cambodian government and the UNHCR.

Uighurs are a Muslim, Turkic speaking ethnic group native to Xinjiang, many of whom chafe under Chinese rule.
Refugees who flee China face a dangerous crossing over the often mountainous and bleak border, and risk repatriation while still in neighbouring countries.

In October, an ethnic Mongolian school principal, Batzangaa, was abruptly brought back to China by Chinese police while he and his family were appealing the UNHCR's initial rejection of their refugee application in Ulan Bator. He is still in detention.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ek Madra in Phnom Penh; Editing by Ron Popeski)
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