via CAAI News Media
Published: 13/02/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Problems lie ahead for the PM as Sirichok ''Mr Wallpaper'' Sopha emerges from his shadow, Thai welcoming committee praised for Hun Sen's hasty retreat from the border, Ex-FM Surakiart Sathirathai says removing Kasit from talks with Cambodia is key to resolving the dispute
Sirichok: Causing political misunderstandings
Dubbed ''Mr Wallpaper'' by the media for spending much of his time standing behind Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during press interviews, Sirichok Sopha has now become a figure to watch in Thai politics.
The fact that he is a well-trusted close aide of the prime minister has given him political leverage, even if few people remember him for his record as a former Songkhla MP.
Some Democrat politicians, however, are concerned Mr Sirichok could invite political problems for the premier.
Over the past year, Mr Abhisit has been seen to be playing the role of a man who tells himself over and over again: ''I'm the prime minister''.
Critics say Mr Abhisit has exercised his authority with little regard for the feelings of other politicians, whether they are leaders of coalition parties or the government manager, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban.
Among political insiders, it is widely believed that Mr Abhisit listens to suggestions from only a handful of people. Among them are his secretary-general Korbsak Sabhavasu, PM's Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn and Mr Sirichok.
In Mr Sirichok's case, political observers reckon he has been following the prime minister like his shadow.
Nevertheless, several sources in the Democrat Party claim that recently Mr Sirichok has caused a number of misunderstandings between Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep.
A senior source in the Democrats said Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep had been at loggerheads over the nomination of the national police chief.
Mr Suthep and Mr Abhisit's previous secretary-general, Niphon Phromphan, were united in their support for deputy police chief Pol Gen Chumpol Manmai to become the new police commander. Mr Sirichok took Mr Abhisit's side and threw his support behind Pateep Tanprasert.
The tug of war ended with Mr Abhisit getting his way and Mr Niphon resigning as his secretary-general last October.
Even after Pol Gen Pateep had been appointed acting police chief, Mr Sirichok had a part to play. It is said that during a confrontation between Pol Gen Pateep and Mr Suthep, it was Mr Sirichok who backed the acting police chief. The party source added that during the reshuffle of police generals and police commissioners, differences between Pol Gen Pateep and Mr Suthep became apparent.
It was also believed that during the confrontation, Pol Gen Pateep was supported by Mr Sirichok.
Pol Gen Pateep and Mr Sirichok were dissatisfied with the appointment of Santhan Chayanon as the Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner, whose nomination was supported by Mr Suthep and the military. Pol Gen Pateep preferred Pol Lt Gen Rachata Yensuang for the post.
Then, a misunderstanding over the appointment of the Metropolitan Police Bureau chief erupted between Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep, said the source.
Mr Abhisit was told Pol Lt Gen Santhan took instructions only from Mr Suthep and certain high-ranking military officers.
The source said Mr Sirichok may have whispered a few words about Pol Lt Gen Santhan to Mr Abhisit.
Mr Suthep insisted it would be impossible for Pol Lt Gen Santhan to listen to him and not Mr Abhisit.
The source added Mr Sirichok has also tried to play political tricks. He had his aide contact Bhumjaithai de facto leader Newin Chidchob to arrange direct communication between Mr Abhisit and Mr Newin without going through Mr Suthep, who is the government manager.
However, Mr Newin did not agree to play his game.
Hun Sen: Put off by Thai welcoming committee
Say hello, wave goodbye
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's tour of the Thai-Cambodian border, including the disputed areas, from Feb 6-8 was meant to send signals to the Thai government and the army.
The opening of a village which Cambodians call ''Hun Sen village'' near Preah Vihear temple is part of Hun Sen's policy to build border villages for Cambodian soldiers and their families to live in.
These border villages are thought to be a kind of buffer against any Thai invasion. They are also gradually expanding further into Thai territory.
Most importantly, judging by the fact that Hun Sen wore a military uniform during his visit, the implication seen is that Cambodia is ready to clash with Thailand over their territorial dispute.
During his visit, Cambodian troops stationed at the border moved up an array of weapons and ammunition to impress their leader.
But Hun Sen was unhappy when 2nd Army chief Weewalit Chornsamrit and Thai authorities managed to climb up the Preah Vihear temple to ''receive'' him.
Lt Gen Weewalit wanted to show to Hun Sen that Thailand owned the land around the Preah Vihear temple and that he himself was a host who was duty bound to welcome his guest.
However, it was not easy for Lt Gen Weewalit and his delegation to make their way up to the temple.
A border army source said Cambodian troops guarding the temple allowed only 10 Thai officers access to the temple and demanded they be disarmed.
And on Feb 8, the Thai army wounded Hun Sen's pride again when they turned him away after he asked to cross the border to visit Ta Muan Thom temple in Surin's Phanom Dong Rak district.
The army said the presence of protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy could ''inconvenience'' him on his visit as a tourist.
Hun Sen later launched a verbal attack on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The source said Hun Sen spent just half an hour on the Cambodian side of the border opposite the Ta Muan Thom temple before flying back to Phnom Penh by helicopter after receiving a report there was ''a boom'' near the Preah Vihear temple.
Cambodian soldiers were concerned for Hun Sen's safety and the opening ceremony of a military office at Ban O-rumchong, 6km inside Cambodia, had to be cut short.
A military source at the Preah Vihear temple said the ''boom'' was actually a sonic boom from F-5 and F-16 jets from the Royal Thai Air Force on patrol over Thai soil near Preah Vihear.
Breaking the sound barrier did the trick, sending the Cambodian premier dashing off home.
Afterwards, the source said both Lt Gen Weewalit and air force commander ACM Itthaporn Subhawong were praised for their roles in arranging ''welcome'' and ''send-off'' ceremonies which Hun Sen is unlikely to forget.
Kasit: Foreign minister in name only
World no longer Thailand's oyster
Even without naming names, former foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai managed to snub his successor Kasit Piromya, who also happens to be one of his critics, on Wednesday.
Mr Surakiart, who was foreign minister under the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, feels Thailand is slowly alienating itself from others on the world stage.
''Since the coup, Thailand has lost many friends,'' said Mr Surakiart.
''Even the US deputy assistant secretary of state Scot Marciel is visiting Cambodia rather than Thailand.''
Mr Surakiart made the point that key US authorities in charge of Asean affairs had bypassed Thailand.
In fact, Thailand was part of Mr Marciel's five-country working tour of the region, which also included Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Mr Marciel did not meet Mr Kasit on Wednesday but made an introductory call on permanent foreign secretary Theerakul Niyom.
They discussed Burma and Cambodia.
As always, the Thai senior official was a good listener.
Earlier, Mr Marciel, the US ambassador to Asean, had a full day of meetings with high-ranking officials in Phnom Penh, including Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
Mr Marciel spoke briefly about the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, saying the US would like to see a stable regional security.
He said that the US is a ''friend to both countries'' and hoped that the issue could be resolved bilaterally and peacefully.
But Hor Namhong responded by saying it was the Thai leadership that was being greedy by seeking Cambodian territory.
Hor Namhong asked the US to support Phnom Penh's application in 2012 for a non-permanent member's seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The US is not the first country from which Phnom Penh has asked for sympathy or support relating to its disputes with Thailand. It has also approached China.
The 18 votes for Cambodia's unilateral listing of the Preah Vihear temple at the World Heritage Board meeting in 2008 is evidence that Cambodia can exercise more clout than Thailand in terms of soliciting help on the international stage.
Yet, Mr Surakiart said there remained something Thailand could do to recover its dwindling influence.
He said, for example, that Thailand could remove the foreign minister from bilateral negotiation mechanisms with Cambodia and appoint a respected person such as former foreign minister Tej Bunnag, who might be better accepted by Phnom Penh to help salvage the fast deteriorating relationship.
Mr Surakiart may have realised that the Abhisit government is likely to stay in power longer than anticipated, so he has suggested practical action to soften the dispute with the eastern neighbour.
But it has been noted that Mr Kasit, who is an open supporter of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy, is not cut out for the job of normalising ties with Cambodia.
The tough challenge is to find someone who is.
Some observers reckon that at least four other individuals are playing ''foreign minister'': Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; Panich Vikitset, who is assistant to the foreign minister; the foreign minister's secretary Chavanond Komalayasutr; and PM Office Minister Virachai Viramethekul.
On his Chinese name card, Mr Virachai introduces himself as ''minister of foreign affairs''. So it's little wonder that Thailand's diplomacy seems confusing and contradictory, if not directionless.