A Thai dissident who has been in and out of Cambodia since beginning a self-imposed exile in 2009 has been appointed a senior officer in an anti-coup organisation launched yesterday.
With a manifesto condemning the Thai military regime’s attempts to turn that country into a “state of fear”, the Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (FT-HD) announced its arrival.
“This organisation will now become the centre for all Thais who possess an unyielding desire for full democracy, in full compliance with the principles of democracy, universal human rights, international laws, and non-violence,” the group’s letter said. FT-HD, the letter added, would “oppose the military dictatorship and its aristocratic network and establish the people’s complete and unchallenged sovereignty”.
Heavily involved will be Jakrapob Penkair, a former government minister and adviser to Thailand’s ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The dissident has assumed the position of executive secretary/spokesman, a position directly below the group’s secretary-general.
Jakrapob, known to have been in Cambodia recently, faces a lese majeste charge in Thailand, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, and accusations that he instigated violence.
He has publicly stated that he and other “anti-junta” dissidents have not been permanent residents in Cambodia and have used the Kingdom only as a transit location to different countries.
Jakrapob declined yesterday to say where the organisation’s base would be.
“No announcement will be made about [FT-HD] headquarters but Minister Charupong is announcing [the group formation] from the United States and I from London, UK,” Jakrapob wrote in an email.
FT-HD’s letter was signed by the group’s secretary-general Charupong Ruangsuwan, who resigned as leader of the Pheu Thai Party less than a week before yesterday’s announcement.
Yesterday, Jakrapob told the Post the organisation consists of eight standing committee members and about 20 other “incognito” constituents.
“We will [now] seek deeper and wider cooperation with countries around the world, while domestic groups are going to be coordinated and enhanced,” Jakrapob wrote. He declined to answer questions about whether Thaksin was involved in or supported the group but confirmed that Robert Amsterdam, best known in Thailand as one of Thaksin’s lawyers, is an “adviser” to the group.
Given its geographical proximity and historic ties to the Shinawatra clan, Cambodia was floated by media outlets as an ideal location for a government-in-exile following the coup.
After being deposed in a coup in 2006 and fleeing to avoid a corruption conviction, Thaksin was made an economic adviser to the Cambodian government and personal adviser to Hun Sen in 2009, a move that led to both nations withdrawing their ambassadors.
The permanent secretary of the junta’s Foreign Affairs Ministry was quick to dismiss the relevance of FT-HD yesterday.
“There is only one legitimate government, that is this administration,” Sihasak Phuangeketkeow said.
Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong reiterated previous statements that no anti-junta political organisations or dissidents were organising or operating in the Kingdom.
Thai dissidents seeking refuge in the Kingdom is nothing new, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Kyoto University.
“I think this has to do with the relations between Hun Sen and the anti-coup elements [operating] inside of Cambodia. This shows the extent to which Cambodia has become involved in Thai politics,” Chachavalpongpun wrote in an email.
But according to independent analyst Peter Tan Keo, Jakrapob’s activities will likely be ignored by the Cambodian government as long as trade between the two countries remains unaffected.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND THE BANGKOK POST