Ten months after recalling their ambassadors, Cambodia and Thailand announced they would normalize diplomatic relations today after the government said yesterday that fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had resigned as an economic adviser.
Analysts said yesterday that the resignation would help thaw icy relations after Mr Thaksin’s surprise appointment in October renewed animosities and paralyzed attempts to resolve a border dispute near Preah Vihear temple.
The resignation was announced in a statement from the government that said King Norodom Sihamoni had approved it yesterday. Cambodian officials said Mr Thaksin had offered his resignation to Prime Minister Hun Sen because he was too busy working overseas on other projects.
“Due to much work abroad, his excellency Thaksin Shinawatra proposed to Samdech Hun Sen to resign from his position,” said Prak Sokhonn, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers. “We are highly thankful that Mr Thaksin provided vision for Cambodia in three major sectors, agriculture, investment and tourism.”
On Nov 5, Cabinet Minister Sok An announced that Cambodia would recall its ambassador to Thailand, You Ay, a direct response to the Thai government’s decision to recall Ambassador Viraphand Vacharathit from Phnom Penh.
Two weeks earlier, Cambodia had appointed Mr Thaksin as a special economic adviser and repeatedly flouted Thai requests to extradite him to Bangkok to face corruption charges.
After hearing of Mr Thaksin’s resignation last night, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said that Thailand would send its ambassador back to Phnom Penh immediately.
“They have announced they do not have any more ties with Thaksin so our condition to hold back a diplomat has ended,” Mr Kasit said. “Thailand will send our diplomat back [today]. Similarly, Cambodia will also send its diplomat back to Thailand.”
Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said last night that Cambodia would send Ms Ay back to her post in Bangkok on Wednesday, echoing the government’s previous commitments to return its ambassador as soon as Thailand returned its own envoy.
Mr Kuong said Mr Thaksin’s resignation would not affect the strong relationship between Mr Thaksin and Cambodia.
“Still, he is best friends with Samdech Hun Sen,” Mr Kuong said, adding that the appointment of the former Thai premier had never been intended to cause friction between the neighboring countries.
“It depends on Thailand on whether they want to strengthen relationships or not…. We never considered that the Mr Thaksin issue was making bad relations between both countries.”
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, lead researcher for political and strategic affairs at the Asean Studies Center, said in an e-mail yesterday that Mr Thaksin’s resignation would make it hard for the Thai government to maintain its rhetoric over the border dispute near Preah Vihear temple.
“For so long, Thaksin’s name has been used by the PAD and Democrat Party as part of their nationalistic campaign to justify their claim of ownership of the surrounding area of the Preah Vihear based on the allegation that Thaksin’s cronies were willing to trade Thai territory in exchange for the former premier’s personal interests,” Mr Pavin said.
“Most people in Bangkok are convinced that the allegation is true. However, with Thaksin no longer Cambodia’s advisor, the PAD and the current government may find it a little harder to continue to use his name to justify their policy toward Cambodia.”
Political observer Chea Vannath said last night that Mr Thaksin’s decision was a “relief” for those looking for a strong bilateral friendship between Cambodia and Thailand. “It is a relief because right from the start the appointment created suspicion and tension between the two nations,” she said.
“I think that for his own interests, too, maybe it is a smart move from Thaksin not to have so many confrontations on so many issues. And it is very good news for the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand.”
(Additional reporting by Reuters)