After staying silent as he pushed through a scrum of reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport last night, returned Thai Ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai finally responded to a query about whether he was happy to be back in Cambodia with the two-word reply: “I’m smiling.”
Seconds later, he was whisked away by an embassy vehicle and full diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Thailand were halfway to being restored.
The return of Mr Prasas nearly 10 months after he was recalled to Thailand came a day after Cambodia announced that fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had resigned from his post as an economic adviser to the government.
Thailand recalled Mr Prasas from Phnom Penh last November after Mr Thaksin’s appointment was made public. Cambodia reacted by withdrawing its envoy to Bangkok, You Ay.
Mr Prasas’ arrival last night came after earlier concerns within the Cambodian government that Thailand may renege on the commitment made Monday to return its envoy. Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong and CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap both said yesterday afternoon that Thailand had not yet notified Cambodia of its decision to send Mr Prasas back.
Last night, however, Mr Kuong confirmed that Mr Prasas’ arrival in Phnom Penh had ensured that Ms Ay would return to Thailand immediately. “She is going to fly back to Bangkok in the morning,” he said.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said last night by telephone from Bangkok that the Thai government was appreciative that Mr Thaksin was no longer working for the Cambodian government. Mr Thaksin was convicted by a Thai court on corruption offenses in absentia earlier this year and is currently facing terrorism charges.
“This decision augurs well for the relationship between the two countries,” Mr Thani said, adding that the return of Mr Prasas would help improve lines of communication between the two neighbors.
“Although we did recall the ambassador earlier, our embassy continued to function,” he said. “But with our ambassador back, it will help ensure communication between both sides will be improved.”
Officials at the Thai Embassy were unavailable yesterday and an official from the Thai-Cambodian Business Council declined to answer questions about Mr Prasas’ return.
A report from the official Thai news organization MCOT said last night that Mr Prasas expected to officially resume his full duties within two weeks, after he goes through the process of visiting King Norodom Sihamoni to present his credentials.
The report added that the Thai ambassador would in the meantime pay a courtesy call on Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
Political analysts believe the restoration of full diplomatic relations will help Cambodia and Thailand make progress on improving their bilateral relations, especially in regard to their long-running dispute over border territory near Cambodia’s World Heritage-listed Preah Vihear temple.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, lead researcher for political and strategic affairs at the Asean Studies Center, said in an e-mail yesterday that the nature of the neighbors’ relationship made it hard to predict.
“Hopefully, both countries will make use of this opportunity to settle their differences, through diplomatic means, rather than political,” Mr Pavin said. “The conflict will not be resolved through the pages of newspaper.”