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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thai, Cambodian military leaders to meet

BANGKOK, Thai and Cambodian military leaders will meet next week amid growing tensions over Phnom Penh's appointment of a fugitive former Thai premier as an adviser.

The Thai-Cambodia Joint Border Committee will have a two-day meeting starting Nov. 27 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Pattaya, according to a report in the Bangkok Post newspaper.

"It will be a ministerial level defense meeting to discuss border security and military cooperation," a Thai defense ministry spokesman said. Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon would use his ties with Cambodian military leaders to help ease the current tension between the two countries, the spokesman said.

The meeting is important because it could avoid spontaneous armed clashes by patrols in the Preah Vihear mountains, around 300 miles north of Bangkok. The two armies have been facing each other for months over a disputed area surrounding an 11th-century Hindu temple. The international court of justice ruled in 1962 that the temple was on Cambodian land. But the only access to the mountaintop building is on the Thai side, which Thai troops sealed off last summer.

A military clash is precisely what both countries, whose ambassadors were recalled this month over the Thaksin affair, are hoping to avoid.

But political tensions moved up a notch Thursday when Cambodian police and aviation experts took over the offices of the Thai-owned firm Cambodia Air Traffic Services. CATS is a subsidiary of Bangkok's Samart Corporation which has a 32-year contract to run air traffic control operations.

The Cambodian authorities now in charge of the services also banned the firm's nine Thai employees from entering the building.

The takeover comes after Cambodian police arrested a Thai national working at CATS on spy allegations. Siwarak Chotipong, 31, is being held in Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh. He is alleged to have passed on the flight schedule of the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during his visit to Cambodia last week, according to a report in the newspaper Phnom Penh News.

The newspaper article quoted a representative for Cambodia's ruling Council of Ministers saying the takeover of CATS was "temporary" and done "to ensure national security and public safety." The financial operations of the company would not be affected.

Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser was covered widely in the country's media this month, including a television interview with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thaksin. Hun has called Thaksin a friend of Cambodia.

Thailand has formerly requested the extradition of Thaksin, 60, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006. He returned in 2007 and the following year received a two-year jail sentence for conflict of interest in high-level business dealings. He fled the country, leaving an estimated $2 billion in frozen assets. He has since lived mostly in the United Kingdom.

Cambodia has refused to hand him over because, they say, his trial was political and not criminal, meaning they are not bound to extradite him under any bilateral treaty.

Analysts are saying that the issue of his return is, in fact, more political than just a case of evading prison. Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, 45, is a member of the Democrat Party and heads a large coalition government that fears Thaksin could pose a credible election threat if he returns to the country. Thaksin, as a former police officer, could call in favors among senior policemen and also some military leaders in any election, possibly next year.

Many of Thaksin's supporters are in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship Party that has demonstrated for Thaksin to receive a royal pardon from the ailing but much revered Thai king.

For his part, Thaksin has reportedly used his Twitter site to vent his anger at the Abhisit government and his opponents within Thailand, the Bangkok Post reported.

"Everything you guys do is right, but whatever we do is wrong. So how can we live together? How long can peace last?" He went on to say he did not believe how long it would be before his supporters' "patience will snap," the article stated.

The Bangkok Post has also reported that Thailand's Foreign Ministry has lodged a complaint with the ambassador of Dubai. Ministry officials said Thaksin is using Dubai as a base for political activities Thailand's government.

The Cambodian Ministry of the Interior has also this week ordered its officials to encrypt as much as possible government information and sensitive documents that it is sending over the Internet. The government fear is that more data, such as happened with Thaksin's fight details, could be siphoned off by spies, the Phnom Penh News report said.

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