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Thaksin departs Cambodia

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Protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gather near a stage set up outside the departure hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, during protests in December 2008.

Fugitive Thai former prime minister heads out as tensions rise in Bangkok

FUGITIVE Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra left Cambodia on Thursday after a brief visit that coincided with rising tensions in Bangkok, as Red Shirt protestors planned large-scale protests aimed at bringing down the government.

Thaksin left at 3:30pm Council of Ministers secretary of state Prak Sokhon, who organised Thaksin’s Cambodia itinerary, said Thursday.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Thaksin shared dinner with Prime Minister Hun Sen after arriving in the Kingdom on Wednesday afternoon. Thaksin, who is believed to be spending most of his time in Dubai, wrote in a Wednesday post on his Web site that he was flying from Papua New Guinea to Phnom Penh, where he would stop for one night before continuing on to another destination in Asia.

Thai ministry of foreign affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi declined to comment on Thaksin’s trip, though Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said last week that the former leader was timing a visit to Cambodia to coincide with planned antigovernment protests that threaten to engulf Thailand’s main airport and sites around Bangkok.

“Thaksin’s trip to Phnom Penh is not surprising. It is known that Thaksin has joined hands with Hun Sen to use Cambodia as his political command base, as it is nearer than his Dubai base,” Suthep told the Bangkok Post.

Red Shirt international spokesman Sean Boonpracong said Thursday, however, that his movement is “more or less preoccupied” with its activities in Thailand, with Thaksin’s presence just across the border having little impact.

Although Hun Sen has made no secret of his distaste for the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, saying in a speech earlier this month that the neighbouring administration “does not have long to live”, Sean said the Thai opposition is proceeding cautiously in its relations with the Cambodian premier.

“From our standpoint, I think that it would look not too good from the rest of the Thai population if we ally ourselves too closely, even if privately we think it will help us,” Sean said, adding: “I felt that [Hun Sen’s] statement was welcomed by the Reds fairly well, but we have to be careful.... We can’t show too much enthusiasm.”

Disruptions in Thailand
In Bangkok on Thursday, Abhisit confirmed that Thailand’s army headquarters was attacked last week, warning that more attacks were possible as tensions mount in the coming weeks. Thai media have reported that an M79 grenade was fired at the office of army chief General Anupong Paojinda in the attack, though Abhisit did not verify these details.

“I have discussed the incident with Anupong,” Abhisit told reporters, saying the event “seemed designed to grab media attention”.

“The army has to look at their security precautions and have every agency concerned on alert. I have already told them that this kind of incident would be more frequent from now on, in order to stir up unrest,” Abhisit added.

The director of Bangkok’s main airport, meanwhile, implored the Red Shirts to rethink rallies at the airport rumoured to be taking place in the near future, warning that they could damage Thailand’s international reputation.

“I would like all people, regardless of what colour they belong to, to bear in mind that the airport is not a place to be used for political bargaining,” Suvarnabhumi Airport director Nirun Tiranartsin told the Bangkok Post on Thursday. In 2008, protesters shut down Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports for more than a week, stranding thousands of travellers and costing Thailand millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue.

The protests ultimately forced the dissolution of a Thaksin-aligned government, paving the way for Abhisit’s ascendance to the premiership by parliamentary vote in December of that year.

Sean said no final decision had been made about the rumoured airport protests, and that the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts were considering all their options as they attempt to step up the pressure on the current regime.

“We’re going to play this one week at a time,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KIM YUTHANA AND AFP

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