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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cambodia announces Thaksin visit

By Kounila Keo Kounila Keo

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra will visit Phnom Penh this week in his new role as economics adviser, the Cambodian PM said Sunday, further stoking a row with Thailand.

"Thaksin will be at the Ministry of Economy and Finance on November 12 to do a briefing with more than 300 Cambodian economics experts," Hun Sen told a news conference at Phnom Penh International Airport.

The visit is set to increase tensions with neighbouring Thailand, which have escalated since Wednesday when Cambodia announced the appointment of Thaksin -- ousted as Thai prime minister in a 2006 coup -- as economics adviser.

Both countries Thursday recalled their respective ambassadors and Thailand warned Friday that it could seal the border.

"If you want to close, close it. The loss will be mutual," said Hun Sen Sunday, pointing out that Thailand had more to lose in terms of border trade profit.

"If Thais want to close the border, Cambodia will follow. If Thais close the border, all trade between Cambodia and Thailand will be cut off," Hun Sen told reporters.

Thaksin is living abroad to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, but Cambodia said last week the charges against him were "politically motivated" and vowed not to extradite him if he travelled to the country.

"Please let Thaksin share my burden of boosting the economy of Cambodia," Hun Sen appealed to the Thai people Sunday.

Earlier, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said billionaire Thaksin faced a "conflict of interest", having previously been chief of negotiations in Thailand and now working "for another side".

Twice-elected Thaksin remains a deeply divisive figure in Thailand, where his supporters have stirred up a series of protests in recent months against the government.

His own allies were forced from government in December 2008 after anti-Thaksin demonstrators held a crippling blockade of Bangkok's airports.

Abhisit used his weekly television programme to defend Thailand's handling of the spat with Cambodia, saying it had acted "calmly and carefully".

The two countries have fought a series of deadly clashes on their border since July 2008 in a dispute over land around an ancient Cambodian temple that was granted UN World Heritage Status.

"There is no reason to make tensions at the border which might lead to clashes," Abhisit added.

Hun Sen also used his press conference on Sunday to downplay tensions at the border, announce the withdrawal of elite paratroopers from disputed territory near Preah Vihear temple because the situation there was "quiet".

Commander Chab Pheakdey, head of the unit, refused to divulge the number of soldiers that would be withdrawn from the area.

The head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, General Surin Pitsuwan, urged Thailand and Cambodia on Saturday to show "maximum restraint" in their ongoing spat.

He said the 10-country bloc should not be seen to be divided by the dispute ahead of a historic meeting with US President Barack Obama and regional leaders later this month. But Abhisit denied the issue would affect the summit.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama also told Hun Sen at a bilateral meeting in Tokyo Saturday that he was "concerned" about the row, a Japanese official said.

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