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Thaksin a central figure at 15th ASEAN summit

Hun Sen arrives at Phnom Penh International Airport after attending the 15th ASEAN summit in southern Thailand.

Hun Sen’s overtures to Thai ex-PM stoke rhetorical flames, but Hor Namhong emphasises progress on regional economic ties, meeting with US president.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and the rest of the Cambodian delegation returned Sunday from the 15th ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, a meeting at which leaders faced distraction by Hun Sen’s controversial invitation to Thai ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Speaking to reporters after his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport, Hor Namhong said that ASEAN leaders had focused on bolstering economic ties both within the bloc and with global allies.

“There will be a meeting between leaders of ASEAN and US President Barack Obama on November 15 in Singapore,” Hor Namhong said, adding that regular meetings between the US and ASEAN would occur in the future.

China, meanwhile, promised to increase its loans to ASEAN nations to US$6.5 billion, while Japan “will look for investment in developing members of ASEAN including Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar,” Hor Namhong said.

Away from the meeting rooms in Hua Hin, though, Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva engaged in a war of words stemming from Hun Sen’s invitation for the exiled Thaksin, on the run from Thailand following his ouster in a 2006 coup and conviction on corruption charges, to come to Cambodia and serve as his economic adviser.

“Millions of Thai people, the Red Shirts, support Thaksin. Why as a friend can’t I support Thaksin?” Hun Sen said in Hua Hin, adding: “Many people talk about Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, why not talk about Thaksin? That cannot be referred to as interfering.”

Abhisit rebuked his guest, telling reporters there was no comparison with the Myanmar opposition leader. “I don’t know how many people share [Hun Sen’s] view that Thaksin is like Aung San Suu Kyi. I doubt there are many, for fairly obvious reasons,” Abhisit said.

Thailand deployed thousands of security forces in and around Cha-Am over the weekend in order to avoid repeats of disruptions at previous summits. Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper reported Sunday, however, that members of the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) plan to protest next month outside the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok.

Hor Namhong said that despite recent differences, the Cambodian government had “received assurances from Thai authorities that they will protect our embassy.”

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