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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Abhisit: Thailand to seek Thaksin's extradition if he stays in Cambodia

BANGKOK, Oct. 22 — Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Thursday said Thailand would seek to extradite ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra from Cambodia if he stays there following the invitation of Prime Minister Hun Sen to host the former Thai leader in his country.

Mr Abhisit commented after former Thai prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyuth, chairman of the opposition Puea Thai Party, visited Phnom Penh to meet the Cambodian leader who was quoted as saying that Thaksin was a "political victim'' and is welcome in Cambodia any time he wishes to stay.

The Thai premier however said he was not surprised by the remarks, saying Mr Hun Sen has told him several times that he was a friend of Mr Thaksin.

"Mr Hun Sen has repeatedly told me that that he could separate personal relations from duty and international relations," Mr Abhisit said. "I don't think (Mr Hun Sen's recent remarks) would affect bilateral relations as both Thailand and Cambodia must bear in mind their own national interests and good relations as an ultimate aim in their policy implementation."

The Thai premier added that his government would seek the extradition of Mr Thaksin once it is established that he is staying in the neighbouring country.

Ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006, convicted and sentenced to a two-year jail term for malfeasance in the controversial Bangkok Ratchadapisek land purchase, Mr Thaksin now spends most of his time in the United Arab Emirates after his status as a visitor was rejected by a number of countries including both the United Kingdom and Germany.

Prime Minister Abhisit downplayed the absence of Mr Hun Sen at the opening ceremony of the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit Friday morning, saying nothing is unusual as some country leaders are also unable to attend the ceremony as they are busily engaged with other important missions in their own countries.

The ASEAN summit and its related summits are scheduled to be held in the Thai seaside resorts town of Cha-am and Hua Hin October 23 to 25.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will not be able to arrive in Thailand in time for the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit, said Vitavas Srivihok, director-general of Thailand's ASEAN Affairs Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Mr Yudhoyono is forming his cabinet, while Mr Najib is scheduled to deliver a statement on the government's budget to the parliament.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, while the Plus+3 countries are China, Japan and South Korea, and the ASEAN+6 – are the 13 plus India, Australia and New Zealand. (PNA/TNA)
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Cambodia signs deals for loans, more during South Korean president's visit

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — Cambodia and South Korea have signed several agreements during a visit by the South Korean president.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong says two of the most important deals signed during Thursday's visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak cover extradition and the framework for $200 million in development loans from Seoul to Cambodia from 2009 to 2012.

The minister says other agreements concern mineral exploitation and joint mine exploration, investment in forest plantations and climate change.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency says South Korean investment in Cambodia totaled nearly $2.5 billion last year.

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Q+A - What's behind Cambodia's offer to give Thaksin a home?

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has offered to give asylum to fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, his "eternal friend", a move likely to further strain ties between the two countries.

Hun Sen's offer will rile Thailand's shaky government as it hosts a summit this week of 16 Asia-Pacific leaders twice delayed due to political unrest that has plagued Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy for four years.

WHY HAS HUN SEN MADE THE OFFER TO THAKSIN?

The outspoken Cambodian premier has always got on well with Thaksin, an investor in his country's telecoms sector in the past and reported to be looking at new investments, including casinos.

He considers Thaksin to be a victim of a political vendetta and has made it clear he is not fond of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government.

Hun Sen is a wily politician who has often used the historical rivalry between the two countries to stoke nationalist fervour for his own gain. His offer to Thaksin will anger many Thais and thus score a few points for him at home.

A long dispute over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple has gained momentum under Abhisit's government and Hun Sen was not impressed when Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya reportedly called him a "gangster". Kasit denies saying that.

HOW HAS THAILAND RESPONDED?

Keen to save face among his peers, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who has called Hun Sen a friend, played down the asylum offer and said the Cambodian premier had misunderstood Thailand's political situation.

But the government and Thaksin's opponents in the Thai establishment and military will be seething at the prospect of the billionaire running a political campaign from a neighbouring country.

Should Thaksin move to Cambodia, Thailand would probably seek his extradition to serve a two-year prison sentence he was given for graft. However, Cambodia and Thailand have no extradition treaty.

HOW WILL A MOVE TO CAMBODIA HELP THAKSIN?

Thaksin's strategy to wrestle back power after being ousted in a 2006 coup centres on the ballot box. His latest political party, Puea Thai, would probably win most votes when another election takes place.

Thaksin has mobilised his supporters in Puea Thai, which has mass rural support, and in an extra-parliamentary movement that is stepping up street protests to bring down Abhisit's government.

A base in Cambodia would let him use his vast wealth and mass support to coordinate his political campaign, making meetings with his henchmen easier and allowing him to stage public relations stunts in the vote-rich northeast bordering Cambodia.

HOW WOULD THIS AFFECT THAILAND'S POLITICAL CRISIS?

It could intensify the standoff, and the prospect of a pro-Thaksin party returning to power would prompt outrage among his opponents who have fought hard to keep him at bay.

Mass street protests and legal challenges against Thaksin and his allies would resume, further polarising the country, spooking investors and tourists and plunging Thailand into deeper uncertainty. Credit ratings could be downgraded.

WILL HUN SEN'S OFFER OVERSHADOW THE SUMMIT?

Hun Sen previously threatened boycotts over the temple dispute and has said he would arrive late in Hua Hin for the gathering of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

It is likely to take centre stage and further embarrass Thailand, whose presidency of the grouping has been fraught with problems. Diplomatic spats are common in ASEAN and the move could derail attempts to seek consensus on a number of issues.
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SKorean president visits Cambodia to boost ties

PHNOM PENH — South Korean president Lee Myung-bak arrived in Cambodia Thursday for a two-day official visit to boost ties and develop economic relations between the two countries.

Lee descended from his airplane to a red carpet at Phnom Penh International Airport, and then received an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni at the capital's royal palace and held talks with premier Hun Sen later in the day.

"Cooperation and relations between Cambodia and South Korea have been growing through many projects," Hun Sen said.

During their meeting, Lee and Hun Sen agreed to form a "strategic and cooperative partnership" between their countries, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters.

Lee also promised South Korea would provide 200 million dollars in soft loans to Cambodia between 2009 and 2013, Hor Namhong said.

In the lunchtime speech distributed to reporters, the South Korean president promised to help develop Cambodia's agricultural sector by providing new technology and training.

Over 500 South Korean companies were currently investing in Cambodia, Lee added.

The two countries also signed an extradition agreement and a deal for an initiative in which Cambodia would issue South Korean tourists multiple entry year-long visas, officials said.

"The visit by the South Korean president is very important. It will boost economic relations between the two countries," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters.

The Yonhap news agency has reported that South Korean investment in Cambodia increased to nearly 2.5 billion dollars last year from 30 million dollars in 1997.

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