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Friday, November 27, 2009

Thailand, Cambodia say row won't lead to conflict

BANGKOK — Thailand and Cambodia's diplomatic row over fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra will not cause further clashes between their armed forces, their defense ministers said after meeting Friday.

Relations between the countries, which have fought a string of deadly gunbattles on their border since last year, plunged earlier this month when Thaksin visited Phnom Penh as an advisor to the Cambodian government.

After a two-day meeting in the Thai resort town of Pattaya which ended Friday, the Thai and Cambodian defense ministers said they had agreed to reach peaceful solutions to solve new misunderstandings.

"Thai and Cambodian forces will support every mechanism to strengthen relations between the two countries," Thai defense minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters.

Prawit said the meeting focused on issues around the poorly defined, heavily armed border and how to make people who live there live peacefully.

Prawit added that military and diplomatic rows were different, saying: "We have to divide them from each other".

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as an economic adviser earlier this month and the Thai tycoon then visited Phnom Penh for four days from November 10.

Thailand was infuriated when Cambodia refused to extradite Thaksin, who was sentenced to two years in jail in absentia in September 2008 on corruption charges and is currently living in exile.

The two countries withdrew their ambassadors, and the row was further inflamed when Cambodian police arrested a Thai man on charges of spying on Thaksin and expelled the first secretary to Thailand's embassy.

Thailand reciprocated soon after.

But Cambodia allowed the mother of the detained man, Siwarak Chothipong, 31, an employee at the Cambodia Air Traffic Service, to visit him in prison on Friday in a bid to ease tensions.

"They met for one hour and a half at a meeting room in the prison," said Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, a secretary to the Thai foreign minister.

Siwarak's mother, Simarak Na Nokhon Phanom, told reporters at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh that she thanked Hun Sen for allowing her to see her son, but added that he was "unlucky" to be arrested.

Siwarak an employee at the Cambodia Air Traffic Service, was arrested early this month on charges of spying on Thaksin's flight schedule.

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