The release of Veera Somkhwamkid, who was imprisoned in Cambodia for more than three years for espionage, was unconditional and Phnom Penh had not sought any favours in return, the Foreign Affairs Ministry insists.
Permanent secretary for foreign affairs Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the release was not made in response to Cambodia’s request for the release of 14 migrant workers being held in Thailand on visa fraud charges.
“Cambodia has not asked for any favours,” Mr Sihasak said, adding that Thailand appreciated Veera’s release since it reflected “goodwill from Cambodia”.
He said he had discussed several issues with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong during his visit to Phnom Penh earlier this week.
A request by military junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha for Veera’s release was among those topics.
“Marking the first anniversary of the cremation of Cambodia’s late King Norodom Sihanouk, a royal pardon was granted to Veera,” Mr Sihasak said. “On behalf of the Thai government and the NCPO, I appreciate the Cambodian decision and am grateful for it.”
Earlier yesterday, acting permanent secretary for justice Charnchao Chaiyanukit said Thailand and Cambodia have signed a prisoner transfer agreement. The case of the 14 detained Cambodians would be covered by this agreement.
The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh would have to forward Cambodia’s request for the inmates’ release to the Foreign Ministry, which would then send it on to the Justice Ministry. The 14 would be freed once the Corrections Department received the list, Mr Charnchao said.
However, Corrections Department deputy director-general Kobkiat Kasiwiwat said an initial check showed that only 13 Cambodians have been detained in Sa Kaeo province for using fake visas.
Authorities have been instructed to verify the number and send the names of the detainees to Cambodia for double-checking.
“Cambodian migrant workers play an important role in the Thai economy, so we have to take good care of them the same way we treat Thai labourers,” Mr Sihasak said.
He said he also discussed the Preah Vihear temple issue with Hun Sen and Hor Namhong during the visit. Both countries reaffirmed their compliance with last year’s International Court of Justice ruling, which handed a large part of the temple land to Cambodia.
Chulalongkorn University political science professor Chaiwat Khamchu said he believed Cambodia released Veera because it did not want to be shown as hostile toward the junta.
Veera’s release should pave the way for the two countries to cooperate more closely on labour issues, he added.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, said the coup has actually improved Thai-Cambodian relations.
The Cambodian premier has gone out of his way not to antagonise the NCPO, in contrast with his actions against the government led by former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
“The bottom line is that Hun Sen cannot afford to incur the wrath of the Thai army after the coup, when the generals now have absolute power and a bad history vis-a-vis the Hun Sen regime,” Mr Thitinan said.
Veera returned to Thailand yesterday with a Thai delegation led by Mr Sihasak.
“I will continue to monitor corruption,” Veera said on his arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport.
“I forgive those who harmed me. We still have a lot of work to do.”
From the airport, Veera was taken by immigration police to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) to hear eight charges police have lodged against him in connection with the seizure of Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports in 2008 by the People’s Alliance for Democracy.
Pol Lt Col Somkiat Tantikanokporn, a CSD investigator, said investigators did not bring a charge of terrorism in connection with the airport seizures against Veera because public prosecutors previously dropped the charge against him.
After hearing the charges, Veera was released on a 100,000-baht bail bond. Veera was ordered to report to police for further questioning next Wednesday, deputy national police chief Pol Gen Somyos Phumphanmuang said.
A military source said Gen Prayuth used his long-standing ties with Cambodian military leaders to help secure Veera’s release.
The source said that after the May 22 coup, Veera’s wife, Pis-umphai, had sent a letter seeking help from Gen Prayuth. The source said the coup leader then ordered state officials to find ways to secure Veera’s release.
Gen Surawat Butrwong, chief of the army’s Neighbouring Countries Coordination Centre, had played a key role in the quick release of Veera, the source said. Gen Surawat has close ties with Cambodian military leaders and Hun Sen.
NCPO spokeswoman Sirichan Nathong said Gen Prayuth welcomed Veera’s release.