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Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Cool' Thais downplay verbal spat with Cambodia

Cha-am, Thailand - Thailand on Saturday downplayed a diplomatic spat that erupted with Cambodia at a South-East Asian in Cha-am over the weekend that was to supposed to demonstrate regional solidarity and "connectivity."The summit got off to rocky start Friday after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced upon arrival his intention to provide asylum to fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra and to offer him a job as economic advisor.

Hun Sen also insisted Cambodia would not extradite Thaksin, who faces a two-tear jail sentence in Thailand on abuse-of-pwer chareges, if he moved to Cambodia.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, for whom Thaksin is an arch political foe, responded to Hun Sen's diplomatic offensive by suggesting the Cambodian premier had been misinformed and was being used as a "pawn" by Thaksin, who has been living in self-exile since August, 2008.

Despite the tempestuous start, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya insisted the summit had been carried out with "civility."

"We have been approaching everything in a very cool, impartial manner," Kaset told a press conference after the conclusion of a two- day summit among the leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cha-am, 130 kilometres south-west of Bangkok.

He said Hun Sen had participated in all the talks "in a constructive manner," and had even backed a proposal that Thailand become the base for a regional emergency financial fund to be set up at the end of the year with a suggested pooled amount of 120 billion dollars.

"It's not like our differences will make us hate each other," Kasit said. "There is civility. There is a need to foster and build up the relationship as much as possible."

Thailand and Cambodia have a long history of animosity and border spats, the latest one being over joint claims to land adjacent to the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border that broke out last year.

A pro-Thaksin government in July, last year backed Cambodia's bid to get the temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite an unsettled territory dispute.

The previous government was charged with helping Phnom Penh to benefit from one of Thaksin's business deals in Cambodia. The new Thai government under Abhisit has insisted on settling the territorial dispute before opening the temple to tourists again.

Thaksin has a long personal relationship with Hun Sen dating back to when he was a business tycoon and won a 90-year concession to offer telecommunication services in Cambodia.

ASEAN, which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has followed a policy of non-interference with one another's internal and even bilateral affairs.

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