(Posted by CAAI News Media)
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Thailand's government threatened Thursday to seek the extradition of Thaksin Shinawatra if the fugitive former prime minister accepts an invitation for refuge in neighboring Cambodia.
The reaction came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen pronounced Thaksin a "political victim" and said he was welcome in Cambodia _ even adding that there's a house ready for him.
Hun Sen's comments were bound to increase tensions between the often-bickering neighbors and clearly timed to rattle Thailand's current leadership. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is hosting an annual summit of Asian leaders this weekend under tight security to prevent protests by Thaksin supporters. At a previous summit in April, Thaksin supporters stormed the venue and leaders were evacuated by helicopter.
"I would like to assure Thaksin and his supporters that Hun Sen will be his friend forever," Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters in Phnom Penh on Wednesday after a meeting with influential former Thai prime minister, Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who recently allied with Thaksin as a member of the opposition Puea Thai Party.
Thaksin has been living mostly in self-imposed exile since he was ousted in a 2006 coup after six years as prime minister. He was convicted last year of conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in prison, and Thai officials have revoked his personal and diplomatic passports.
"Thaksin was a political victim. I respect and like him more now than when he was a prime minister," Hun Sen said, adding that he has prepared a house where Thaksin can stay at any time.
Relations between Cambodia and Thailand have already been sour due to a border dispute over a parcel of land around an 11th century temple.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban called Chavalit's visit to Cambodia an attempt to "create legitimacy for Thaksin."
"If we find out that he is living in Cambodia, we will start a legal proceeding to ask for his extradition," Suthep told reporters in Bangkok, dismissing questions about potential damage to Thai-Cambodia relations.
"It's a normal because they are friends," Suthep said, referring to Hun Sen and Thaksin. "But I am sure (Hun Sen) will differentiate between friendship and legal proceedings."
Past extradition attempts to other countries have failed due partly to bureaucracy and an inability to locate Thaksin, the government has said.
Since the coup, Thaksin has surfaced in Dubai, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Liberia, and Montenegro in pursuit of investment opportunities.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, remains popular among the Thai poor who benefited from his populist policies, but he is reviled by many of the elite in Bangkok, where his administration was seen as deeply corrupt. Thaksin has repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing.
Much of his fortune remains frozen in Thai banks, and he has been barred from several countries following diplomatic pressure from Thailand.
Britain revoked Thaksin's visa in November last year, and Germany later revoked his residency permit.