Thailand will not restore diplomatic relations with Cambodia if Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to offer refuge and employment to fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to a representative of the Thai government.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that in order for Thailand to return its ambassador to Phnom Penh and reinstate the 2001 agreement on oil and gas exploration in the overlapping claims area of the Gulf of Thailand, Mr Hun Sen must drop Mr Thaksin as his economic adviser.
“We would like to call attention to the situation before the 23rd of October, and return to this position,” Mr Panitan said yesterday by telephone from Bangkok when asked what conditions would be required to restore diplomatic relations. “There were less complications then,” he added.
On Oct 23, upon his arrival at an Asean summit in Thailand, Mr Hun Sen offered Mr Thaksin shelter in Cambodia and a job as his economic adviser. That offer was made official four days later in a Royal decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni. Thailand withdrew its ambassador when the decree became public in November.
Mr Panitan said that Mr Thaksin’s appointment had weakened Thailand’s position in border negotiations over the disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple as well as in the marine overlapping claims area.
“Our former Prime Minister is a very good border negotiator,” Mr Panitan said. “By sitting across the table from Thailand, we are put at a disadvantage,” he said of Mr Thaksin’s position as adviser.
However, he added that the Thai government was encouraged by the Royal pardon and release from prison this week of a Thai engineer convicted of spying for Thailand while employed by Cambodian Air Traffic Services.
“We have acknowledged an improvement already with the release of Siwarak Chotipong,” Mr Panitan said.
Cambodian government lawyer Pal Chandara said yesterday that the government did not care about the Thai position on Mr Thaksin.
“This is the Thais’ issue,” Mr Chandara said by telephone. “We do not care; they can say whatever they want.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan agreed that Cambodia would not budge on the issue of Mr Thaksin.
“Our position is still the same-non-negotiable-because we made this decision already,” Mr Siphan said.
The comments from both governments come as Mr Thaksin is conducting his second visit to Cambodia since he accepted the position as Mr Hun Sen’s adviser.
In the first of three scheduled discussions with government officials, Mr Thaksin discussed agricultural development yesterday at a closed-door meeting at the Council for the Development of Cambodia, according to Prak Sokhon, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers.
“This morning he was talking about opportunities in the field [of] agriculture,” Mr Sokhon said. He added that he did not know Mr Thaksin’s schedule in detail, but knew of two more official meetings scheduled for today.
“All I know is he will have another two working sessions at the CDC tomorrow, one in the morning and in the afternoon,” Mr Sokhon said. “As the adviser to the government and to the prime minister, he will talk about investment and tourism.”
Mr Sokhon said that he did not know how long Mr Thaksin planned to stay in Cambodia on this visit. “He himself is not sure how long he will stay,” Mr Sokhon said.
Mr Siphan, the Council of Ministers spokesman, said that Mr Thaksin had also committed to funding two model farms in Cambodia, in partnership with the Rural Development and Agriculture Ministries.
“Thaksin committed to have a pilot program for families involved in agriculture,” Mr Siphan said. “We don’t know how much the amount is going to be for this project.”
During Mr Thaksin’s previous visit to Cambodia in November, the Thai government asked for the provisional arrest and extradition of the former premier, who faces two years in prison on abuse of power charges if he returns to Thailand. Cambodia refused that request, arguing that Mr Thaksin’s conviction was politically motivated.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that the Thai government had not made any official response to Mr Thaksin’s most recent visit. Officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to requests for comment.