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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Relations with Thai govt cannot be normal, says Cambodian PM

PHNOM PENH : Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that foundering relations with Thailand would not be normalised until Bangkok's current government was voted out of office.

Relations between the countries, which have fought a string of deadly gunbattles on their border since last year, plunged last month when fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra became an economic adviser to Cambodia.

Both recalled their ambassadors in November, and diplomatic tensions were further raised when Phnom Penh refused to extradite Thaksin during his first visit as economic adviser.

"I tell you (Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva) I'm waiting for the Thai next government to come to power and for them send back the ambassador," said Hun Sen in a speech at Phnom Penh ceremony.

"You raise the issue of Thaksin, but you forget the issue of Preah Vihear," he said, in reference to the 11th century Khmer temple at the centre of the deadly border dispute between the two countries.

"I want to say that relations cannot be normalised as long as you are still invading me," Hun Sen added.

Thaksin, who arrived back in Cambodia Sunday, stepped up his economic advisory role Wednesday as he addressed senior government officials on how to boost investment and tourism.

The telecoms mogul, ousted in a 2006 coup, was credited this week by the Cambodian government for the release of a Thai air traffic control employee jailed for seven years for spying on Thaksin's previous visit.

After the man's arrest last month, Cambodia expelled the first secretary to the Thai embassy and Thailand retaliated in kind.

Angered by Thaksin's presence in Cambodia, Thailand last month also put all talks and cooperation with the neighbouring country on hold and has torn up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's tenure as prime minister.

Twice-elected Thaksin is living abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption handed down by a Thai court in September 2008.

But he remains an influential political figure in Thailand, stirring up mass protests by his "Red Shirt" supporters against the current government.

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