Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday laid out the red carpet for Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha as Thailand’s leader paid his first visit to Cambodia after seizing power in a military coup in May.
Mr. Hun Sen—a long-time ally of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose sister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted in the May coup—warmly welcomed the former army chief to his office building in Phnom Penh, known as the Peace Palace.
Following an official ceremony and private talks Thursday afternoon, the two leaders were due to hold a joint press conference, but called it off without explanation.
Mr. Hun Sen’s personal assistant, Eang Sophalleth, instead addressed the media, stressing that the talks were aimed at improving cooperation between the neighboring countries “for mutual benefit.”
“The two leaders were taking it as a historic visit, and this historic visit is to increase cooperation, to strengthen cooperation,” he said.
As planned, Mr. Hun Sen and Gen. Prayuth also signed three memorandums of understanding, pledging to cooperate on tourism, the elimination of human trafficking and connecting a railway between Cambodia and Thailand.
Mr. Hun Sen suggested that any disputes be resolved through “friendly negotiation” and called for a joint effort to properly demarcate the border between the neighboring countries.
“Don’t allow one issue that is yet to be resolved or one issue that occurs to obstruct cooperation in all sectors, and don’t allow one issue to spread to other issues,” Mr. Sophalleth quoted the prime minister as saying.
Mr. Hun Sen also asked the Thai delegation to fulfill a pledge made by the country’s previous administration to establish a committee to oversee joint border patrols and investigate the shooting deaths of Cambodians who cross the border illegally to log luxury wood.
Mr. Sophalleth told reporters that Gen. Prayuth said both countries should “drop past disputes” in order to further develop relations in the future, and emphasized his desire to boost economic ties. Bilateral trade between the countries, Mr. Sophalleth said, was worth $4.55 billion last year.
“Thailand has the intention to…create Special Economic Zones along the border,” Mr. Sophalleth said. “His Excellency has asked the Cambodian side to form a committee to discuss the creation of the Special Economic Zones.”
The proposed SEZs will be located in Thailand’s Trat and Sa Kaeo provinces, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, who also addressed reporters after a separate meeting Thursday between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart, General Tanasak Patimapragorn.
Mr. Kuong said that General Tanasak put forth a plan to attract factories to the area that could take advantage of cheaper Cambodian labor.
The spokesman went on to dismiss a proposal by Gen. Prayuth—reported in the Bangkok Post Thursday—that would allow tourists to visit Preah Vihear temple from Thailand. The border crossing at Preah Vihear temple has been closed since 2008, when tensions erupted between the two countries over disputed territory near the temple.
“I think that many tourists [already] go to Preah Vihear temple from the Cambodian side because there are good roads and luxury hotels,” Mr. Kuong said. “In my opinion, it is unnecessary for tourists to visit from the Thai side.”
Mr. Sophalleth said Mr. Hun Sen and Gen. Prayuth had not discussed any specifics about cooperation in the tourism sector.
Gen. Prayuth was also granted an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni Thursday evening. His official visit ends Friday.
(Additional reporting by Holly Robertson)
© 2014, All rights reserved.