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Saturday, November 07, 2009

INTERVIEW - Thai PM says no plan yet to seal border with Cambodia

By Yoko Nishikawa


TOKYO (Reuters) - Thailand said on Saturday it has no plan yet to seal its border with Cambodia despite a diplomatic row, but will seek to extradite fugitive former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, if he goes to Cambodia to become an adviser.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also told Reuters in an interview that Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been recovering from his illness and he expected the 81-year-old king to be discharged from hospital soon.

Thailand and Cambodia deepened a diplomatic row by recalling their ambassadors from each others' countries on Thursday after Phnom Penh made Thaksin an economic adviser.

The tit-for-tat spat threatens to worsen political tensions in Thailand by potentially giving Thaksin a base across the border from where he can direct his supporters and causing a diplomatic embarrassment for Abhisit.

"We did not talk," Abhisit said when asked if he had a chance to speak with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen while he was in Tokyo for a summit of five Mekong region nations and Japan, which brought him and the Cambodian leader together at an awkward time.

"We would seek (his) extradition," Abhisit added when asked about his government's response if Thaksin goes to Cambodia.

"We do not accept the view that this is a political case. Rather, it is a straight-forward application of our laws."

But asked if Bangkok would seal its border with Cambodia, Abhisit said, "At the moment, we don't have plans to do that."

Thaksin, the twice-elected billionaire who was deposed in a coup three years ago and has been living in exile to avoid corruption charges, still commands widespread support in rural areas and remains a force in Thai politics.

Abhisit stressed the dispute did not affect the two-day Japan-Mekong summit meeting that ended earlier in the day.

"We are very conscious that this is an issue that we should solve bilaterally and that we should not let this get in the way of multilateral cooperation. So we won't allow to affect ASEAN. We won't allow to affect a forum like this," he said.

KING'S HEALTH

Abhisit said Thailand's king, who has been in hospital since Sept. 19, was recovering and that he was performing his duties from the hospital.

The 81-year-old king, the world's longest serving monarch, is regarded as semi-divine by many of the country's 67 million people.

"He has recovered and is now staying to do physiotherapy. And soon we expect His Majesty to be discharged from the hospital," Abhisit said, adding that the timing of the king's release from hospital would be up to doctors.

The king's health is a sensitive topic in financial markets because he is seen as the sole unifying figure in a politically polarised country with a long history of coups and upheaval.

Abhisit said the king was still performing his duties in hospital. "We have laws that have been signed and have come to affect, for instance, the budget law."


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