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Thai Employees Retake Air Traffic Responsibilities

Cambodia has returned responsibility for its air traffic to a team of Thai controllers that had been suspended since November—with changes officials say will improve national security.

The Thai-owned company, Cambodian Air Traffic Services, saw its senior Thai staff replaced by Cambodian counterparts in the wake of a scandal in November, when one of its employees reported flight information to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The employee, Siwarak Chotipong, was charged as a spy by a Cambodian court for reporting information related to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was expected to arrive in Cambodia as a new economic adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Siwarak received a royal pardon in December, but Thai staff at CATS had remained on the sidelines.

Those top posts were reoccupied by Thai staff on Monday, officials said. However, the company has been restructured to include Cambodian staff in each of the company's departments.

"Cambodian staff from now on will occupy the flight office and equipment control office, and they communicate directly to the general director of the company," said Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, which ordered the reinstatement.

The air traffic imbroglio came in the midst of deepening diplomatic divisions between the two countries over Thaksin's appointment, and Phay Siphan said Tuesday the reinstatement of Thai staff was not intended to improve diplomatic ties but was rather "an application of commercial law."

Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday the diplomatic situation between the two neighbors is "still the same."