Thai PM in Town for Talks as Protest Blocked

Prime Minister Hun Sen and visiting Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva talked oil, trade, development, security and the continuing border dispute on Friday in the Thai premier’s first official visit to Cambodia, officials said.

In a gesture to a neighbor with which it has more than once engag-

ed armed clashes along the border in the past year, Mr Hun Sen also agreed to allow two Thai Muslim men who were convicted in 2004 of conspiring to attack Western embassies in Phnom Penh to serve out their sentences in Thailand, Reuters news agency reported.

The two leaders also agreed to work to avert armed confrontations in the future, officials said.

Hundreds of police were deployed at the park in front of Wat Botum in Daun Penh district’s Chaktomuk commune, blocking access in all directions in anticipation of a banned protest calling for an end to perceived Thai military aggression at the Preah Vihear temple.

There was also a heavy police presence throughout the main thoroughfares of the commune, surrounding the Independence Monument and along Sothearos Boulevard and Sisowath Quay.

After failing to convene at the park, the Cambodian Confederation of Unions held a press conference at its Chamkar Mon district headquarters on Street 95 with about 30 supporters from the Free Trade Union, the Federation of Cambodian Scholars and the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, CCU President Rong Chhun said.

Speaking to reporters at the Foreign Ministry, Mr Hun Sen’s assistant Eang Sophalleth said that Mr Hun Sen and Mr Abhisit had discussed road construction along National Road 68, which links National Road 6 to the Thai border, as well as the disputed maritime region known as the overlapping claims area, which is believed to contain large oil reserves, and construction of hydropower dams on the Stung Metoeuk river, which stretches along the Thai border in Pursat and Koh Kong provinces.

The meeting had occurred in a “good environment” said Mr Sophalleth, adding that Mr Hun Sen had asked Mr Abhisit “to do whatever to avoid armed clashes, to use all existing mechanisms to negotiate to solve, rather than armed explosions along the border areas.”

Mr Sophalleth also said that Mr Hun Sen asked that Thailand consider opening a second Poipet border crossing for freer transport of goods and asked that Thailand cooperate to reduce the trade imbalance with Cambodia, which currently imports about $2 billion in Thai products every year.

Reached by telephone, Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Commerce Ministry, said Friday that righting the trade imbalance was a necessary but difficult task as Cambodia currently exports only about $200 million worth of goods to Thailand every year.

Following the meeting, Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary at the Thai Embassy, agreed with Mr Sophalleth’s description of the meeting but declined to comment.

At a ceremony open to the media, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya formally returned seven stolen Cambodian artifacts comprises of sculptures depicting the heads of deities.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that the seven pieces were taken from among 43 artifacts stolen from Cambodia and confiscated by Thai authorities in the 1990s.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia strongly hopes that other remaining Khmer artifacts can be returned to the Royal government of Cambodia in the future,” he said.

Rong Chhun said Friday by telephone that his office had been surrounded by police, some in civilian clothing, as a show of intimidation against those hoping to voice their concerns in street protests.

“We are really sorry that the authorities are abusing the rights for demonstration and freedom of expression in public areas,” he said. “The Thais’ visit to return seven precious Cambodian artifacts is just a consolation for outward appearances,” he said. “Really, in their hearts, they are still invading Cambodia.”

Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth confirmed that police had been deployed to the CCU office.

“We are not banning them from having freedom of expression, we just deployed police for security reasons,” he said.

“How can we allow them to disturb a valuable meeting?” he asked.

“These groups better think of their country’s reputation when we fail to provide security for the Thai Prime Minister,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)


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