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Diplomats expelled in tit-for-tat

Diplomats expelled in tit-for-tat

CAMBODIA and Thailand expelled senior diplomats from their respective embassies on Thursday, the same day that fugitive Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra told an audience in Phnom Penh that Thailand’s current leadership is guilty of “false patriotism”.

“We declared the first secretary of the Thai embassy as persona non grata,” Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said.
“We just declared that, and then Thailand reciprocated, meaning our first secretary to the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok will come back, too.”

Asked to explain the Cambodian government’s decision, Koy Kuong said only that the Thai first secretary “performed his duty contrary to his position”.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the expulsion was the result of Thailand being “arrogant”.

“Cambodia did not make the first move. This follows the recall of the Thai ambassador,” he said. “We should respect each other through diplomatic channels, but Thailand doesn’t respect them. They overreacted.”

Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi confirmed the expulsion, though he added that both countries have maintained personnel at their respective embassies.

“We still have a presence, and they, too, still have a presence. The channel of communication is still open,” he said.

The expulsions mark the latest step in the countries’ ongoing row over Cambodia’s appointment of Thaksin as a government economics adviser. In response to this appointment, Thailand withdrew its ambassador to Cambodia last week, and Cambodia responded in kind.

Thaksin was deposed in a 2006 coup and self-exiled last year to avoid a prison term for corruption charges.

Speaking in his new advisory capacity on Thursday morning, Thaksin emphasised the need for cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia as he told a gathering at the Ministry of Economy and Finance that the two countries’ economic fortunes are inextricably linked. But he added: “Of
course, not all my compatriots see it that way right now.

“I do not believe those who do not share our vision right now are myopic. Their domestic political compulsions force them to false patriotism. Let’s pray that they, too, will one day appreciate this partnership for progress,” he said.

In the conference’s opening address, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said Thaksin’s tenure as prime minister “is generally agreed to have been one of the most distinctive in the country’s modern history”.

“Whatever the critics say about Thaksinomics, the achievements were astonishing,” Keat Chhon said.

Thaksin and Keat Chhon were speaking at a conference titled “Cambodia and the World After the Financial Crisis”, attended by about 300 economic experts and members of the business community.

Security at the conference was heavy, with members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit providing protection for Thaksin.
Members of the media were ushered out of the conference hall minutes after Thaksin began speaking.

Following the lecture, Thaksin travelled to Siem Reap, where he visited the Angkor Wat temple complex and planned to play golf with Hun Sen on Friday, Siem Reap provincial Governor Sou Phirin said.

The onetime telecommuncations mogul was greeted upon arrival in Siem Reap by members of Thailand’s Red Shirts, and the Bangkok Post reported Thursday that parliamentarians from the opposition Puea Thai party planned to travel to Cambodia “to drink with their former party leader on Friday night until dawn before seeing him off to Dubai on Saturday morning”.

In Bangkok, about 150 protesters rallied outside the Cambodian embassy on Thursday and delivered an open letter telling Hun Sen not to interfere in Thailand’s justice system, Thai police said.

Speaking before the diplomats’ expulsion Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he was considering further retaliatory measures against Cambodia. He added, however, that his government would not seal the border, and that the rift with Phnom Penh would not lead to violence.

“I don’t want the situation going out of control,” he said.

Thaksin in Cambodia: your views

Venerable Sok Piseth, 28
Monk, Wat Botum pagoda
“I don’t know if Thaksin’s case is really politically motivated or criminal in nature. If it is political, I support Hun Sen’s decision not to extradite Thaksin. However, Thaksin’s presence in Cambodia has hurt our relationship with the Thai government. People on the border will lose their good relations if they think the relationship between their governments is bad.”

Mom Chankomoth, 38
National Assembly official
“It is good that we have a new adviser to help the government on economic matters because Thaksin was a successful businessman before he became prime minister of Thailand. The relationship between Thaksin and Hun Sen is unlikely to become a serious issue for the two nations, and I do not believe either side will resort to war.”


Sann Thy, 29

Freelance video producer
“If you talk about Thaksin, don’t talk about politics. He is here as an economic adviser, so he will bring more investors and benefits to Cambodia. But we see already that his presence here is causing tension ... because he is popular among the Thai people. I hope Thailand’s internal problems will be solved because I don’t want such problems to bother our country, too.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP, THET SAMBATH, LAURA SNOOK AND RANN REUY

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