Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is set to visit Cambodia this weekend, Thai media reported yesterday.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra reportedly said her brother was going to Cambodia on a personal trip and not on behalf of the Thai government, a quote that fueled media speculation about the nature of the as-yet-unconfirmed visit.
Bangkok media touted the trip as an opportunity for the former Cambodia economic advisor to discuss energy concerns.
State-run Thai news agency MCOT cited an unnamed Pheu Thai party source as saying Thaksin would help the Cambodian government negotiate a plan for the joint development of a petroleum venture in the Gulf of Thailand.
Thailand and Cambodia have long been embroiled in a disagreement over the division of oil and gas resources in the Gulf and experts believe the election of Yingluck’s Puea Thai party has made a solution to the disputed zone more likely.
An agreement about the Overlapping Claims Area was close to being reached just before Thaksin’s removal from power in 2006, a leaked cable from the US embassy in Phnom Penh in 2007 stated.
But despite the reports of Thaksin's plans, many in Phnom Penh were unaware of the reported visit from Cambodia's former economic advisor.
Prak Sokhon, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong both could not confirm the visit. “Mr Thaksin can visit Cambodia any time he wants,” Koy Kuong said.
One well-placed source, who wished to remain anonymous, even said that Thaksin was now living in Cambodia. The Post could not confirm the claim yesterday.
Regardless of his plans, many see Thaksin as the powerhouse behind Yingluck's government.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said that "Thaksin is rushing to show the world that he is a de facto Prime Minister of Thailand. He will be in Japan this week, again, to show that he has been a legitimate leader".
He said any talks in Cambodia about possible investment in oil and gas exploration would "certainly irritate his enemies".
Thaksin has personal connections with Prime Minister Hun Sen. He was appointed as an economic adviser to Hun Sen and the Cambodian government in 2009, a move that provoked the ire of former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and led to the withdrawal of Thailand's ambassador to Cambodia.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER