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Thai-Khmer Relations

Prayuth 'had a hand in activist's release'

The surprise release of a yellow shirt activist from a Cambodian jail came after junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha talked on the phone with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh said yesterday.

The release of Veera Somkwamkid, jailed in late 2010, was announced shortly after a meeting between Hun Sen and permanent secretary of the Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow on Tuesday night in Phnom Penh.

Tea Banh said the Cambodian government had had discussions with the Thai military junta on several matters of which Veera - who was sentenced to eight years in jail on charges of espionage and trespassing in Cambodian territory in December 2010 - was one.

Veera's release was unconditional and reflects the strong bilateral relations, Tea Banh said.

The Cambodian minister added that while there had been misunderstandings between the two nations in the past, they have worked hard to resolve them.

"It is a good sign that we are coming to an agreement with each other on many issues," he said. "We are friends so when we have problems, talking is the best way of settling them."

Prior to leaving Phnom Penh yesterday, Veera said a Thai military attache had previously visited him in jail to say the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was helping secure his release.

Before heading to Cambodia, Sihasak had said he would discuss three topics with the Cambodian leader. These were the general political situation in Thailand, the migrant workers and Veera's case.

General Prayuth helped provide guidelines for diplomatic efforts to bring Veera home and his release was secured on a humanitarian basis given that the activist had served more than three of his eight-year-term, Sihasak said.

Earlier, Cambodian authorities had insisted that Veera needed to serve two-thirds of the total jail term to qualify for a royal pardon.

Sihasak admitted that he did not expect Veera to be released, though he suspected that Hun Sen was ready to deliver some good news on the matter.

In the meeting on Tuesday at the Peace Palace, Hun Sen happened to ask Sihasak whether he would like Veera to be released immediately so he could fly out yesterday with the rest of the Thai delegation or if he should be let go later. When the diplomat said he wanted Veera released right away, Hun Sen pulled the royal pardon out of his pocket and handed it over.

Sihasak had earlier agreed that breaking the news of the royal pardon would be up to Cambodia, and kept quiet until it was made official.


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