Fugitive ex-premier's trip likely to further deteriorate relations between Cambodia and Thailand.
THAILAND's deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in Phnom Penh Tuesday at the invitation of Cambodia's government in a move that is likely to escalate a diplomatic row that has already seen the two countries recall their ambassadors and plunged relations to their lowest point in six years.
Thaksin, who last week was appointed both an economic adviser to the government and a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen – further inflaming Thai anger – is expected to deliver a lecture to hundreds of Cambodian economics experts on Thursday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told the Post Tuesday he was unsure how long Thaksin would remain in Cambodia.
The ex-premier, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, arrived at the military air base adjacent to Phnom Penh International Airport in a small jet, and was briefly greeted by several Cambodian officials on the tarmac before being whisked away in a motorcade.
Thaksin's visit to Cambodia is the closest he has come to his country since living in self-exile to avoid a prison term for abuse of power charges handed down in absentia in 2008.
In a posting late Monday on his Web site, Thaksin claimed his trip to Cambodia was not an act of provocation.
“As I travel to Cambodia to discuss poverty and the world economic situation, I will try to preserve Thai interests with our friends in Phnom Penh, despite the Thai government still hounding me wherever I go,” he wrote.
“I will not go to Cambodia to help Cambodia fight with Thailand, but to exchange views and experiences on poverty-solving as well as new regional economics.”
Bangkok has vowed to seek the fugitive billionaire’s extradition, with Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi saying Monday that his government was already in the process of preparing the extradition documentation.
Cambodia, however, has maintained that Thaksin will not be extradited because he was prosecuted for “political reasons,” with Prime Minister Hun Sen comparing the ex-Thai leader to Myanmar opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi during the 15th ASEAN summit in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin last month.
Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong confirmed Tuesday that the government will “absolutely not” extradite Thaksin.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said Sunday that in the event of Thaksin’s arrival in Cambodia, the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva “will be forced to step up the escalation spiral”.
He added, however, that both sides must own up to their responsibility for the breakdown in relations.
“Hun Sen has overstepped the line here – diplomatically, legally, politically,” he said.
“At the same time, the Abhisit government has to own up to its past deeds. Appointing [Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya] has been a liability, and now you can see the consequences. Allowing Sam Rainsy to speak in Thailand has added fuel to the fire. Allowing the right wing radical groups from the PAD [People's Alliance for Democracy] to protest at the [Preah Vihear temple] site… has added fuel to the fire.”