CAMBODIA rejected a formal request by the Thai government on Wednesday for the extradition of visiting Thai ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who faces a two-year prison term in Thailand after being convicted of corruption in absentia in 2008.
In a statement reiterating a promise the government has made repeatedly over the past few weeks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would not extradite Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 coup and self-exiled last year to avoid imprisonment in Thailand for the “politically motivated” corruption conviction.
“The condemnation of HE Thaksin Shinawatra is logically the consequence of the military coup d’etat in September 2006, which resulted in his removal from the post of prime minister, while he was overwhelmingly and democratically elected by the Thai people,” the statement read.
In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva condemned the Cambodian refusal to extradite Thaksin.
“My government wants bilateral ties to be normal, but Cambodia’s political standpoint is incorrect, inappropriate and against international principles,” Abhisit said.
Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said Thailand was weighing its options after the rejection.
“We have received a copy of the diplomatic note that the Cambodian side has sent to us, and at the moment, our legal people are examining the details and the contents of the letter,” Thani said, adding that the Thai legal team would make a policy recommendation for the government to consider.
Abhisit has threatened to terminate the extradition agreement between Thailand and Cambodia in the event that a request for Thaksin is denied, though Thani said that his government has not yet settled on a response.
“I think a review of all the agreements that we have is being examined. I don’t want to prejudge what the outcome of that review will be,” he said.
Last week, Thaksin was officially appointed economics adviser to the Cambodian government and personal adviser to Hun Sen.
In response, Thailand withdrew its ambassador to Phnom Penh, and Cambodia responded in kind.
The ‘eternal friends’ speak
In a joint interview with Thaksin broadcast on state-run TVK television on Wednesday afternoon, Hun Sen spoke of the partnership between his Cambodian People’s Party and Puea Thai, a Thai opposition party with which Thaksin is associated. Hun Sen also alluded to this partnership when he met with Puea Thai’s Chavalit Yongchaiyudh last month.
“We have a party-to-party relationship between the CPP and Puea Thai, which was originally Thai Rak Thai,” Hun Sen said, referring to Thaksin’s former party.
“Now this party has transformed itself into Puea Thai, but this party relationship continues. The leaders of the CPP and the leaders of Puea Thai can meet each other at any time, at any place, and can even hold a summit meeting together.”
Even as he threw his support behind the Thai opposition, however, Hun Sen dismissed the possibility that the recent row with Thailand could escalating into armed conflict, characterising it as a dispute between politicians rather than populations.
“It is a dispute between Abhisit and Hun Sen,” he said, adding: “If there is a dispute between people and people, how could Thaksin and I be talking together? He is also a Thai.”
In the same interview, Thaksin defended his acceptance of the advisory role and accused the Thai administration of holding a “Cold War” mindset in its antagonism towards him and the Cambodian government.
“Whatever I say, the [Thai] government will be against, so actually, in this 21st century, we should have some dialogue,” Thaksin said, adding: “If I can help, it will be beneficial to Cambodia and to Thai people as well.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP