Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Hun Sen's U-turn marks tough time for Thaksin

via CAAI News Media

Published: 7/04/2010

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's attempt at rapprochement between his country and Thailand was widely expected by foreign relations observers. It was only a matter of timing, they say.

Hun Sen told Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban at the weekend that he would no longer allow fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to use his country as a base to attack the Thai government.

The Cambodian prime minister said he could distinguish between personal relations and the national interest, and asked Thailand to put aside the past and think about ways to help restore relations between the two countries.

Such comments stand in sharp contrast with the position taken last year by Hun Sen.

Relations initially turned sour, and animosity was given free rein, after Thailand opposed Phnom Penh's attempt to list the Preah Vihear temple on the shared border as a World Heritage site.

Things then took a decided turn for the worse in November when Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as economic adviser to himself and his country. Both countries recalled their ambassadors.

Hun Sen said he could not work with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his foreign minister, Kasit Piromya.

But such ideas seemed to have been forgotten on Sunday when he walked over and embraced Mr Kasit after a dinner in Hua Hin where he was attending the Mekong River Commission summit. Hun Sen said he and the foreign minister were old friends.

Why the shift in attitude?

Thaksin has not made use of Cambodia as a base for his video calls to red shirt followers even though it is an apparent safe haven after Hun Sen granted him immunity from extradition to Thailand late last year.

Instead, he has hopped from country to country - from the United Arab Emirates to Montenegro, from Sweden to Russia - all the time risking the ignominy of being expelled in line with the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry's requests for him not to be given any international safe haven.

There is certainly something amiss in the relationship between the Cambodian leader and Thaksin.

One Thai diplomatic source hinted that the change was no accident, but the result of a gradual process that had been engineered through diplomatic channels.

It could also be a case of the Cambodian leader realising that Thaksin could lose the game he has been playing and this could cost Hun Sen a loss of face.

It is said Hun Sen would dearly like to see a return of his country's ambassador to Thailand.

Whatever the reasons for the rapprochement, Thailand would be wise not to rush in before responding to these signals.

Any formal attempt to resume this troubled relationship must be conducted wholly in the interests of the two neighbouring countries. Such efforts must be sure not to serve any particular individual such as Thaksin.

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