Ousted Thai PM arrives in Cambodia to take up government post

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thaksin Shinawatra
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived today in Cambodia where he will take up a post as the government's economic advisor. The appointment has caused a diplomatic incident between the two countries, as Shinawatra was condemned to two years in jail in absentia for corruption.

Tension is already mounting, with the Thai government expressing both anger and embarrassment over the appointment. They have withdrawn their ambassador and have decided to cancel plans with the Cambodian government for trade and oil exploration. This comes amidst disputes over the Preah Vihear temple complex which spans both countries. Thailand has further threatened to close borders with its neighbour.

Thaksin will address 300 Cambodian economics experts on Thursday in Phnom Penh and is expected to remain "two or three days" according to Cambodian cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan. "It is an honour for Cambodia's economic sector and we hope that Cambodians nationwide welcome him warmly," he announced.

Cambodian information minister Khieu Kanharith also welcomed Thaksin. "We are looking forward to learning from Thaksin's great economic experience and we are convinced that his experience will contribute to our country's economic development," he said.

A coup in 2006 ousted Thaksin after members of parliament defected during military rule. Since then he has been in exile, mostly living in Dubai. He is still influential in Thailand, using protests by the Red Shirts, and the Thai government fears that Thaksin will use Cambodia as base to campaign.

However, Thaksin published a letter on his website on Monday indicating that he did not intend to "go to Cambodia to help Cambodia fight with Thailand [...] As I travel to Cambodia to discuss poverty and the world economic situation, I will try to preserve Thai interests with our friends in Phnom Penh, despite the Thai government still hounding me wherever I go," he stated.

Cambodia has made it clear that they will not extradite Thaksin. Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said that regarding the jail sentence they are "not concerned about these issues [...] We already clarified this case because he is a political victim."