Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Border spat crimps Aids event

Public health falls victim to squabble

Published: 2/12/2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The diplomatic spat between Thailand and Cambodia has spilled over into the health sector after Cambodian officials refused to take part in activities in the border province of Sa Kaeo to mark World Aids Day.

Chief of the provincial public health office in Sa Kaeo Peera Areerat said Cambodian health official Banteay Meanchey cited the diplomatic row between the two countries for not joining the planned activities in Aranyaprathet district yesterday.

Thai officials retaliated by pulling out of similar activities on the Cambodian side of the border, Mr Peera said.

Public health officials in the two border provinces usually work together to organise annual events that aim to promote Aids prevention and raise awareness among local labourers and residents. They have cooperated for the past four years.

But relations between the two countries have soured after Phnom Penh rebuffed calls to extradite fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and appointed him an economic adviser.

The two countries initially withdrew their ambassadors, but the Thai cabinet took a tougher line by moving to cancel a 2001 memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the joint exploration of oil and gas in disputed waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

Permanently revoking the MoU requires parliamentary approval, but the cabinet has not yet sent its request to the legislative body for endorsement.

The Thai and Cambodian governments pledged again yesterday to prevent their conflict from spreading and harming border ties.

Despite yesterday's fallout, Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai was confident Cambodia would not stop offering its cooperation on health matters.

"Aids relief and other health care programmes along the Thai-Cambodian border will continue as usual," Mr Witthaya said, urging Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen not to drag the Aids issue into politics.

Cambodian authorities in Koh Kong province will allow Thai trawlers to apply for new fishing contracts from tomorrow, said Trat Fisheries Association chairman Thitikorn Lohakupt.

The decision was made after talks yesterday between Koh Kong governor Bun Lert and other Cambodian officials.

Hun Sen on Monday openly expressed his unhappiness with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, saying he would not deal with Thailand as long as the two remained in power.

Mr Abhisit responded yesterday by saying his actions were aimed at protecting the national interest and that he would not allow the spat to affect the people.

Mr Abhisit said Thailand had not frozen a 1.4 billion baht loan for Cambodia to improve a road from Chong Chom district in Surin to Siem Reap. The road would link the northeastern Thai province with the Cambodian tourist destination.

Thailand had earlier threatened to review the project but it was never brought before the cabinet.

"If there is any refusal to cooperate with Thailand, I want to let the Cambodian people know that it is the Cambodian leader's decision, not the Thai government's decision," he said.

Mr Abhisit also phoned Hun Sen to clarify the issue, said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

The Cambodian government has sent a letter to the Thai government acknowledging the cancellation of the proposed loan.

Mr Panitan yesterday said Thailand would only normalise ties with its neighbour under certain conditions.

"Bangkok wanted no interference in Thailand by Cambodia, and Cambodia had to end its criticism of the Thai justice system and terminate Thaksin's advisory post," he said.

The increased tensions saw Cambodia accuse Sivarak Chutipong, a Thai working with Cambodian Air Traffic Services, of spying. He stands accused of supplying information about Thaksin's return flight from Phnom Penh to Dubai on Nov 14.

Mr Sivarak was arrested on Nov 12. His bail request will be heard tomorrow and the trial will begin on Tuesday.

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