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Thai general and Hun Sen cement ties

Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has lavished praise on Prime Minister Hun Sen for “understanding” the political situation and organising the release of imprisoned ultra-nationalist Veera Somkwamkid.

Hun Sen has been cosying up to the Thai military government that took power in a May coup despite his close links with fugitive ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Analysts say that’s because Cambodia realises Thailand may be dominated by the military for years to come.

Although a mass exodus of Cambodian workers from Thailand last month due to rumours of a crackdown on illegal migrants threatened to derail relations, bilateral tensions over the issue appear to have now largely subsided.

Veera’s royal pardon was granted on Tuesday on Prayuth’s request after a meeting between Hun Sen and Thai acting foreign minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow.

In an official letter sent to Hun Sen on Wednesday and released yesterday, the general offered his “sincere appreciation for [Hun Sen’s] understanding of the current political situation in Thailand, including the steps taken by the Thai authorities in managing the recent outflow of Cambodian workers”.

Cambodia’s “kind gesture” in releasing Veera this week, Prayuth said, “will definitely contribute to the friendly atmosphere in the bilateral relations between our two countries”.

In a further move that will win him favour in Bangkok, Hun Sen said on Thursday that the Thai military government had the same legitimacy as the current Cambodian government, as both were endorsed by royal decree.

He has also taken pains since the coup to assert that no Thai government-in-exile will be allowed to be based on Cambodian soil. Foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached yesterday.

But Eang Sophalleth, the PM’s spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that Hun Sen had told Sihasak that he did not believe the coup had been pre-planned and that Cambodia wished to “strengthen” relations.

“The Prime Minister said he understood [Thailand’s problems] and that Cambodia would never interfere in the internal issues of Thailand,” Sophalleth said.

Yesterday 14 Cambodian workers arrested in Thailand on false visas were finally allowed to return to the Kingdom.

The group of 10 women and four men aged between 18 and 36 crossed through the Poipet border checkpoint yesterday morning.

Paul Chambers, of the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai, said yesterday that Hun Sen and Prayuth were clearly not natural allies.

“In fact, the military faction which currently dominates Thailand despised Hun Sen, first because this clique opposed efforts by Cambodia to gain control of the 4.6 square kilometres of territory abutting Preah Vihear temple.

Second, in 2009-2011, Cambodia sided with Thaksin, even sheltering him and offering him a position as economic adviser,” he said.

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