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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thailand-Cambodia Relations Sink Further

By Staff

Thailand moved a step closer to breaking off relations with Cambodia after Phnom Penh officially refused to extradite former Thai premier and fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said all relations with Cambodia are now being reviewed, a report in the Bangkok Post said.

In an effort to allay fears of military confrontation, he said Thailand had no intention of using force against Cambodia and that border crossings would not be closed.

But he also said that border authorities would discourage Thais from crossing into Cambodia to gamble, an activity banned in Thailand. He did not say what form this persuasion would take

Thailand formally requested the extradition of Thaksin under an extradition treaty signed by both countries. But a diplomatic note from the Cambodian government on Tuesday said Phnom Penh cannot send Thaksin to Thailand because they believe his conviction in 2008 was political and not criminal.

Both countries recalled their respective ambassadors last week over the issue. Thailand also said it has torn up a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia that has formed the basis for talks to settle a nagging maritime boundary dispute. A settlement of the disagreement would allow both countries to start more development of oil and gas reserves.

Thaksin was ousted from power by a military coup in September 2006 but returned to Thailand when his political allies won power in 2007. His wife, Pojaman, was sentenced in 2008 to three years in jail for tax fraud, and soon after Thaksin, 60, received a two-year sentence. He fled before handing himself in, leaving an estimated $2 billion in frozen assets.

Vejjajiva, 45, heads a large coalition government and fears Thaksin could pose a credible election threat if he returns to the country after appearing to be rehabilitated.

Cambodia has not been shy of putting Thaksin in front of the media. State television this week showed Thaksin and Prime Minister Hun Sen embracing each other. Hun Sen reportedly called Thaksin an "eternal friend."

A report in the Phnom Penh Post newspaper said today that government representatives greeted Thaksin at the airport on Tuesday, saying "it was an honor for the people and the country of Cambodia."

The report did not say from where he had arrived but did say he would be staying until Thursday at least. He was then taken to a house in the capital that was going to be his while he remains an economic adviser to Hun Sen. The Phnom Penh Post also printed several pictures of the two smiling and shaking hands.

Thaksin's relationship with his homeland could get more disputatious, thanks to a recent interview published in the British newspaper The Times.

Thaksin has ordered his lawyers to investigate what he believes are misquotes that show him calling for a revamping of Thailand's monarchy system of government and by extension the position of the king.

Such language could be used against him in a Thai court under lese majeste laws that make it illegal to speak disrespectfully against King Bhumibol, 81, who is ailing in a Bangkok hospital.

Many people including journalists and tourists have fallen foul of the law and ended up in jail. (c) UPI

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