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Thaksin arrives 'home'

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) and fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra shake hands on Saturday at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

Fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Cambodia felt “like my home” after holding private talks with Prime Minster Hun Sen in his first visit to Phnom Penh since his sister’s rise to power.

Thaksin, who has previously served as an economic advisor to Cambodia, flew into the capital in the early hours of Saturday morning before meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for about an hour. 

“I was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, I feel warm in Cambodia and Cambodia is like my home,” he said at a lecture on regional and global economic issues that he gave to more than 100 government officials later that day.

Eang Sophalleth, Hun Sen’s personal spokesman, yesterday declined to disclose any details of the premier’s discussions with the ousted Thai leader at the capital’s Peace Palace, merely saying: “[They] extended warm greetings to each other and Samdach [Hun Sen] thanked Thaksin for his goodwill in sharing his economic experience and his knowledge to senior Cambodian government officials.”

Last week Hun Sen ruled out holding discussions of the Preah Vihear border  or the overlapping oil and gas claims in the Gulf of Thailand with Thaksin.

But Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said yesterday that Thaksin’s visit was likely driven by his ability to have real influence on the two issues. “If things can improve, the Pheau Thai government has to diffuse the border issue somehow so it doesn’t look like they’re selling out national sovereignty and Thaksin is in a good position to do that,” he said.

“The government in Thailand is too green and lacking in experience and Thaksin has the ability to do that,” he said, adding the former Thai PM was good friends with the “strong man” Hun Sen.

Thaksin’s visit came less than two days after his sister and newly elected Thai Prime Minister Yingluck received a similarly amiable reception from the Cambodian premier. An entourage of “red shirts” travelled to Cambodia to greet and support him.

Flanked by tight security at the Phnom Penh Hotel, they told the Post yesterday that they wanted their old leader – who technically faces arrest in Thailand – to return.

Rueankaeo Shihakim, permanent secretariat at the office of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said: “Everyone wants Thaksin to return home, Thailand is his native country, as the leader of the Red Shirts he has expressed concern about his support and he will wait until the political situation in Thailand has calmed down before returning.”

In 2006, Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless coup after outrage flared over his sale of the Shinawatra family’s share of the telco Shin Corp, without paying capital gains tax, for 90 billion baht (about US$2 billion) to Singaporean company Temasek.

At the beginning of his three-hour lecture at the Ministry of Economy and Finance on Saturday, Thaksin told Cambodian government officials the legal system needed to be respected and clear economic policies drafted to secure investor confidence.

“It is also necessary to modernise the country’s financial system such as the establishment of a securities market and bond market in order to mobilise sources of capital for economic development,” he said, adding Cambodia needed to develop infrastructure as well.

Keat Chhon, Minister of Economy and Finance, praised the economic experience Thaksin would contribute to help Cambodia continue strong GDP growth, which he estimated to be 6 percent in 2010 and 7 percent this year.

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