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Monday, December 14, 2009

Q+A-What is ex-Thai PM Thaksin doing in Cambodia?

Dec 14 (Reuters) - Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra has returned to Cambodia for the second time in a month, baiting his political rivals back home and adding fuel to a diplomatic row between the two neighbours [ID:nSGE5BD03Q].

The billionaire, who is on the run from a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power, says he plans to further his work as an economics adviser for Cambodia. His critics say the visits are stunts aimed at raising the political stakes in Thailand.

WHAT IS THAKSIN'S STRATEGY?

Thaksin's presence in Cambodia is attracting a lot of attention back home and is seriously testing the patience of the Thai government, which has shown restraint in the face of his provocation and Cambodia's refusal to extradite him.

Thaksin is probably seeking to use Cambodia as a temporary base to meet his political allies, fortify his sizable support and discredit the government. He will take pleasure from the fact that there is little his enemies in Thailand can do to stop him.

WHY IS HE VISITING NOW?

Thaksin has turned a recent feud into a public relations coup for himself and his Puea Thai party by ensuring a Thai sentenced to seven years in a Cambodian prison for spying -- by leaking the former tycoon's flight details -- received a royal pardon.

Thaksin's "red" movement is gathering momentum back home and the Cambodian visit comes ahead of a big push by his parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces, starting next month.

"Red shirt" demonstrators are planning prolonged anti-government protests while Puea Thai will seek to undermine Abhisit Vejjajiva's shaky coalition in a censure debate.

Also looming is a court ruling on whether Thaksin's family should be entitled to almost $2.3 billion worth of seized assets.

WHAT'S THE ECONOMIC IMPACT?

Cambodia's economy depends heavily on China, Japan and South Korea and very little on Thailand, which in turn relies on its neighbour for just 0.05 percent of total imports.

It is unlikely a tit-for-tat row with Thailand will change anything, unless the border is closed, in which case Cambodians would have to find other suppliers of goods such as building materials and electrical appliances.

Investors in Thailand, however, might not be so comfortable. Thaksin's provocative alliance with Hun Sen risks further destabilising a country mired in political strife for almost five years and continues to distract Abhisit, hampering his efforts to govern properly.

WILL TENSION GET WORSE?

Television footage in Thailand of Thaksin receiving statesman-like treatment in Cambodia, and appearing as a healer of diplomatic wounds, will further vex the Thai government and probably prolong the row.

Thailand and Cambodia are barely on speaking terms. Cambodia has least to lose from a protracted feud and by cosying up to Thaksin, Prime Minister Hun Sen appears to be in no rush to fix the problem, suggesting it could go on for some time. (Compiled by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Bill Tarrant)

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