Bilateral Diplomacy Played Out Via SMS

Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that he had communicated with his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva via text message Tuesday night to clarify a Thai government agency’s claims that Thai militants had received weapons training on Cambodian soil.

The Thai Justice Ministry’s Department of Special Investigations announced Monday that 39 Thai “red shirt” militants were trained in Cambodia after Thai authorities broke up anti-government protests in Bangkok in May.

The DSI said the militants were training for missions to assassinate Mr Abhisit and other senior Thai government officials. The Thai National Security Council verified the DSI’s report on Tuesday.

Yesterday, in a speech delivered to university graduates at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen said he had communicated directly with Mr Abhisit about the DSI’s claims.

Mr Hun Sen rejected the claims as false.

“Since Abhisit and I have a personal communication via a special mechanism, [Tuesday] night [he] SMSed to me saying that the [DSI] speaker did not reflect the government’s stance,” Mr Hun Sen said.

“Later, I told a man who I do not want to mention by name…to SMS back [to Mr Abhisit] and ask if the National Security Council represented the [Thai] government or not.

“[He messaged back] saying that it was not reflective of the [Thai] government’s stance.”

Mr Hun Sen also made note of the fact that Mr Abhisit had not declared that Cambodia was involved in the training of the Thai militants.

“The [DSI’s] analysis informed Abhisit, but Abhisit did not make a statement that could provoke the issue,” he said.

Mr Hun Sen’s statements about Mr Abhisit appeared to support Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn’s stance on Tuesday that the DSI had not announced its claims with the backing of the Thai government.

The dialogue between the two leaders appears to be the first time they have conversed since agreeing at a meeting in New York last month that they would communicate directly with each to prevent miscommunication.

Independent political observer Chea Vannath said she believed the direct line of communication between Mr Hun Sen and Mr Abhisit may have prevented the latest bilateral problem from getting out of hand.

“A firecracker can start a bushfire, but the communication between the two leaders shows that they have good intentions,” Ms Vannath said. “I think it is a very constructive way of avoiding miscommunication over a very serious issue.”

Officials from the Thai Foreign Ministry were unavailable yesterday and did not answer questions submitted by e-mail.

Thai Ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai met with National Assembly President Heng Samrin at the Assembly yesterday. Their conversation, however, did not broach the claims that red shirts had received military training in Cambodia, according to Mr Samrin’s Cabinet chief, Koam Kosal.

Mr Prasas left the meeting smiling, but declined to answer a reporter’s questions as he walked to his car.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry yesterday sent a diplomatic note to the Thai Embassy strenuously denying the DSI’s claims.

“Such unsubstantiated and malignant claim made by the DSI is causing greater harm to the Thai-Cambodian relations and, in effect, appears as an impediment to the efforts for improving ties between the two countries,” the statement said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that the note was not sent with the intention of invoking a response from the Thai government.

“The note was only sent to make our position clear, and we do not expect any response,” Mr Kuong said, adding that Thailand had not yet communicated with the Foreign Ministry about the DSI’s claims.

In a similar vein to the Foreign Ministry’s note, the Council of Ministers’ press and quick reaction unit yesterday issued a statement saying the DSI was “engaging in a new string of malicious political maneuvering to intoxicate the international opinion.”

The statement said the DSI’s information “was ultimately concocted…with the purpose to fault Cambodia.”

Separately yesterday, the Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would visit Cambodia between Oct 26 and 28.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Mr Ban is expected to visit the Khmer Rouge tribunal and hold talks with King Norodom Sihamoni and Mr Hun Sen during his visit.

(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)

© 2010 – 2013, All rights reserved.