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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cambodian PM Offers to Host Fugitive Thai Ex - PM

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has offered to host his "eternal friend," fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, at any time, state television reported on Wednesday.

Hun Sen conveyed his message to Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a Thai political heavyweight and close Thaksin aide, in comments likely to rile a Thai government anxious to minimise the billionaire's influence from exile.

State-run TVK said Hun Sen described Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, as an "eternal friend" and said he had a residence in Cambodia waiting for him.

"Thaksin is a political victim and I take pity on him," Hun Sen told reporters after meeting Chavalit, a key member of the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party, in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

Hun Sen pledged his support for Puea Thai, Thailand's main opposition and the latest incarnation of Thaksin's disbanded mass Thai Rak Thai party.

His comments came on the eve of a summit of Asian leaders in Hua Hin, Thailand, where Hun Sen is due to meet his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose fragile government is battling to survive amid mass protests by Thaksin's supporters.

MOUNTING TENSIONS

Hun Sen caused a stir this month when he ordered troops to shoot any Thai crossing illegally into Cambodia, as nationalist tensions mounted over an 11th century temple the two countries have fought over for decades.

Hun Sen previously threatened to boycott the Hua Hin meeting over the temple row, but has confirmed he will attend, while missing Friday's opening ceremony.

Thaksin, who scored an unprecedented two landslide election victories, has been living mostly in Dubai since skipping bail in August 2008 ahead of a two-year prison sentence for graft.

He owns a private jet and has travelled the world on various passports, including one from Nicaragua, and continues to rally his supporters in video addresses from exile.

Analysts say with Thaksin's vast war chest and huge support among the rural masses, Puea Thai would likely win the next election, a scenario that would lead to more instability in a country dogged by four years of intractable political strife.

Chavalit, an influential former prime minister who joined Pueu Thai last week, said Hun Sen saw Thaksin as a victim of a political vendetta.

"Hun Sen feels Thaksin has been unfairly treated. He says he has done so much for the country but he has no country to live in," Chavalit told reporters on his return to Bangkok. "He will build a house in Phnom Penh for Thaksin to live. He said there's no need to stay in Dubai, he can come any time he wants."

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