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13 November 2009

Cambodia, Thailand expel senior diplomats as row deepens

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Cambodia expelled a top Thai diplomat and Thailand reciprocated Thursday, deepening a huge row over Phnom Penh's naming of former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra as an economics adviser, an AFP report said.

The tit-for-tat moves came as Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, delivered a lecture in the Cambodian capital in which he accused Thailand's rulers of "false patriotism".

"We decided to expel the Cambodian first secretary after Cambodia expelled our first secretary from the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh," Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told AFP.

He said Thailand had given the neighbouring country's diplomat 48 hours to leave. Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Vimon Kidchob said it was "necessary to take similar action" after Cambodia ordered its diplomat to leave Phnom Penh on Thursday afternoon.

Thailand and Cambodia have already recalled their ambassadors from each other's capitals in the growing quarrel over Phnom Penh's appointment of Thaksin, which was announced last week.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen further angered Bangkok on Wednesday by refusing a request for the extradition of Thaksin to serve a two-year prison sentence handed down in September 2008 in a conflict of interest case.

Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications mogul, hit out at the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in an address to some 300 members of business and government at Cambodia's finance ministry on Thursday.

"I see a lot of synergy between your country and mine. What is good for you will also be good for my country. Of course not all my compatriots see it that way right now," Thaksin said.

Thaksin later flew to the tourist hub Siem Reap where he was greeted by dozens of weeping "Red Shirt" supporters who crossed from northeast Thailand to give roses and hugs to the tycoon as he arrived at a hotel. In Bangkok, around 120 protesters rallied outside the Cambodian embassy, watched over by dozens of police.

Abhisit on Thursday ordered a review of two road construction projects with Cambodia which involved loans of more than 1.4 billion baht (42 million dollars) to Phnom Penh, the Thai finance ministry said.

Thailand has already put all talks and cooperation programmes with Cambodia on hold and tore up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's time in power. Tensions were already high between the two nations following a series of clashes over disputed territory near an ancient temple and the row threatens to mar a weekend summit of regional leaders with US President Barack Obama.


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