Hun Sen, Thaksin Lead Nations’ First Joint Cabinet Meeting

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Thaksin Shin­a­watra, joined hands Satur­day in front of Angkor Wat, in a symbolic gesture of unity between their recently estranged nations.

At meetings in Siem Reap and in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani, the leaders promised to streng­then bilateral relations and signed numerous agreements designed to ease any remaining tensions between the two neighbors.

Rumors about Angkor Wat sparked a night of mob violence directed at Thai interests Jan 29. A Thai actress was alleged to have made derogatory remarks about Cambo­dia’s foremost symbol of national pride. Thailand downgraded diplomatic relations after the riots, but ambassadors re­turned to their positions in April, when the Cambodian government gave Thailand $5.9 million in reparations for damage to its embassy.

Thaksin spoke of the riots in strong terms at Saturday’s meeting. “The burning of the Thai Em­bas­sy was the worst nightmare, and we could not have expected it,” the Associated Press reported him as saying. “However, we hope this will be the last nightmare in our alliance.”

Saturday’s joint Cabinet meeting was the first of its kind to be held between the countries. The morning session was held under tight security in Siem Reap; in the afternoon, ministers flew to Ubon Ratchathani, where 5,000 police officers were deployed to protect them, the Bangkok Post reported.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Sunday spoke positively of the atmosphere at the meeting.

“It was good, and historical for our countries. Now we understand each other better,” he said.

The two sides agreed to extend the current border pass system, allowing Thais to spend up to seven days in Cambodia and vice versa. The passes now will cover travel to Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces, and Si Sa Ket and Chanthaburi provinces in Thailand.

Three domestic border crossings are to be upgraded to international checkpoints, he said. They are at the Choam checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey, in Prum district in Pailin and in Kam­rieng district in Battam­bang province. Six more local checkpoints are also due to be opened. “We agreed that if any border checkpoint is to close, there must be a meeting about it first,” he added.

Delineation of the Thai-Cam­bo­dian border is also to be investigated, Khieu Kanharith said. “We agreed to find the 73 old border demarcation poles,” which date back to the French colonial era. New posts will be erected in the same positions, he said.

Grants for transportation projects were also settled upon: Thailand agreed to fund the construction of roads in Koh Kong, Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey provinces, and a hydroelectric dam, also in Koh Kong.

In another gesture of good will, the border crossing at Preah Vihear temple was reopened at a ceremony Saturday, according to Chea San, police chief of Preah Vihear province. The checkpoint was closed in December 2001 as the result of a disagreement between Thai and Cambodian authorities over a polluted stream.

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