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Thailand-Cambodia Tensions Rise Over Appointment of Fugitive Thai Official

Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly VersionSend to a FriendSend to a FriendTensions between Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand and Cambodia are high after Cambodia's leader appointed a fugitive former Thai prime minister as an advisor. Both countries have withdrawn their ambassadors and claim interference in their internal affairs. Regional political analysts say relations between Bangkok and Phnom Penh are the worst they have been in several years. On Friday, Cambodia withdrew its ambassador to Thailand, in retaliation for Bangkok's withdrawal of its ambassador the day before. Thailand's action came after the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed fugitive Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic advisor. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls the appointment interference in its domestic affairs and a failure to respect its judicial system. Thani Thonthongpakdi is a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He says Thai-Cambodia relations have been tested for over a year, and tensions are rising. "We believe that we had to send a strong signal to Cambodia regarding their recent action. I think that the extant to which our bilateral relations will be affected, we will have to see what the reaction on the Cambodian side is," he said. Thailand says it is now reviewing all its existing agreements and cooperation projects with Cambodia. Thani says the government will most likely postpone or reduce projects if Mr. Thaksin's appointment goes ahead. Koy Kuong, a spokesman for Cambodia's Foreign Ministry, says despite Thailand's objections, the government will go ahead with Mr. Thaksin's appointment. He says the Thai government is interfering in Cambodia's internal affairs by objecting to the appointment. "The government of Cambodia has no intention to worsen the relationship between the two countries because of the appointment of Thaksin as an economic advisor to the government. So, it is the Thai side which views [it] in [a] different way," he said. Koy Kuong says Cambodia views the charges against the former prime minister as politically motivated. Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup and fled Thailand last year to avoid a jail term for corruption. The former leader is still popular in Thailand's countryside and among the poor because of his social welfare projects. The argument adds to growing tensions over a disputed border area where sporadic fighting has broken out. Puangtong Pawakapan is a professor of politics at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. She says Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin Shinawatra is pay-back against the Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for disputing the listing of a temple along the border as a world heritage site. The temple is in Cambodia, but Thailand controls land around it. "I don't think Hun Sen invited Thaksin to be his advisor because he really needs Thaksin's advice no economic issues … I think it's [a] political issue and it's emotional retaliation of Hun Sen on the Abhisit government," said Pawakapan. The Thailand's ambassador was last withdrawn in 2003 when rioters burned down the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh after a Thai actress questioned Cambodian sovereignty over the border temple. Despite the withdrawal of ambassadors, both Thailand and Cambodia say normal business and travel relations will not be affected.