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14 December 2009

Ex-Thai PM’s visit to Cambodia may worsen diplomatic row

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Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra landed in Cambodia Sunday, setting the stage for another diplomatic fracas between the neighbouring countries, AFP reported.

Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, was escorted from a small private jet at Phnom Penh International Airport into the capital by a convoy of cars under tight security, an AFP reporter said.

Thaksin's visit to Cambodia last month to take up a government economic advisory role caused a diplomatic row when Cambodian premier Hun Sen refused to extradite the tycoon to Thailand to serve a two-year jail term for corruption.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said Sunday Bangkok would submit a new extradition request.

"The Thai government will follow the same procedure as last time. When people wanted for crimes in this country travel to a neighbouring country we will ask them to detain and request an extradition," Panitan told reporters.

But Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told AFP that sending a further request "is just a waste of time".

"Cambodia's position on the issue will not change. We will not extradite or arrest Thaksin," he said. After his arrival, Thaksin went to Prey Sar prison for a brief visit with a Thai man jailed for spying on him last month.

Siwarak Chothipong, 31, is due to be released on Monday after Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni issued a pardon.

Thaksin is expected to attend an official ceremony following Siwarak's release to be held at Hun Sen's home along with members of Thailand's opposition party and Siwarak's mother.

Siwarak's mother was seen smiling outside the prison on Sunday after the meeting with Thaksin.

The air traffic control employee was sentenced to seven years in jail for supplying Thaksin's flight schedule to the Thai embassy. During his trial last week, Siwarak denied stealing documents and told the court that although he had informed the embassy's first secretary by telephone of a flight arrival, he had not been aware that Thaksin was on board.

As a result of the case Cambodia expelled the first secretary to the Thai embassy and Thailand retaliated in kind. Both countries had earlier withdrawn their ambassadors in the dispute over Thaksin's appointment as economic adviser.

Angered by Thaksin's presence in Cambodia, Thailand also put all talks and cooperation on hold and tore up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's tenure as prime minister.

Tensions were already high between the two countries following a series of deadly military clashes over disputed territory near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple on their border.

Billionaire telecoms mogul Thaksin is living abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power handed down by a Thai court in absentia in September 2008.

Thaksin won two elections in Thailand and remains a massively influential political figure at home, stirring up mass protests by so-called "Red Shirt" supporters against the current government.


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