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Cambodia PM has reservations over Thailand’s chairmanship

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September 16, 2008

Upcoming Asean Summit:
Cambodia PM has reservations over Thailand’s chairmanship

Cambodia's prime minister said Monday that neighboring Thailand's political crisis raises questions about whether it will be able to host an upcoming summit of Southeast Asian leaders, reported the Associated Press.

He also said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should ponder asking another country to chair the December meeting in place of Thailand.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was reacting to turmoil that has seen Thailand's prime minister forced from office by one of the country's courts and the grounds of his office occupied for almost three weeks by anti-government demonstrators, with no clear resolution in sight.

Thailand's Parliament is supposed to pick a new prime minister on Wednesday, but there are many signs the situation may be deadlocked.

"I am wondering whether we can have the summit there since there is no government in Thailand yet," Hun Sen told reporters. "Where else in the world has a government building been occupied by protesters like this? Only in Thailand. It is quite weird."

Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Its members rotate the chairmanship of the grouping in alphabetical order.

Cambodia has a sometimes prickly relations with its bigger, richer neighbor, most vividly illustrated in 2003 when the Thai Embassy in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh was burned down by rioters over a remark by a Thai actress that allegedly questioned the country's sovereignty.

Nationalistic feelings in both countries were stoked recently when Thailand revived a complaint about a border temple once claimed by both countries but awarded to Cambodian in 1962 by the World Court.

Hun Sen said the situation in Thailand was affecting "not just the Thai image exclusively, but Asean's image as well."

"If Asean cannot meet in Thailand, should (the chairmanship) be returned to Singapore or passed on to Vietnam? What is to be done?" he asked. "We will wait and see."

The chair of the 10-member group goes in this alphabetical order: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (the name used by the regime in Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. Thus, Thailand has just assumed the chair from last year's chairman, Singapore, and Vietnam is next in line.

Hun Sen's comments are likely to be taken as a symptom of worsening relations between Cambodia and Thailand over disputed border territory, which has become a powerful domestic political issue on both sides of the border, reported DPA.

The comments are unusual because Asean members normally refrain from commenting on internal issues of other members, but Cambodia claims Thailand again encroached onto its territory over the weekend and troops are now within metres of a third disputed ancient temple.

Hun Sen's cabinet has told local media he is losing patience with what many Cambodians see as violations of their sovereignty but which Thailand says are normal troop movements in disputed areas which have gone without incident for years previously.

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