Thai leaders said yesterday they would seek the extradition of fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra if he accepts Prime Minister Hun Sen’s offer of a place to stay in Cambodia, according to media reports, while political experts worried that the premier could be playing with fire.
The offer to Mr Thaksin of safe haven in Cambodia was made during a meeting Wednesday with another former Thai premier, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. That meeting also saw an alliance cemented between Mr Hun Sen’s ruling CPP and the opposition Puea Thai party, of which Messrs Chavalit and Thaksin are prominent members.
According to a report in the Bangkok Post newspaper, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that Thailand plans to make use of an informal extradition agreement between Thailand and Cambodia if Mr Thaksin accepts Mr Hun Sen’s invitation. Mr Thaksin has remained in exile since August 2008, when he was sentenced to two years in jail for abuse of power.
“Once Thaksin enters Cambodia, the extradition process will begin,” Mr Abhisit reportedly said.
“I have talked with Hun Sen several times and he’s told me that he’s Thaksin’s friend, but that he will separate friendship from duty and international affairs…. If Cambodia fails to comply with the treaty, that would be another story,” Mr Abhisit said.
In posting to the social networking site Twitter yesterday, Mr Thaksin thanked Mr Hun Sen for his hospitality in offering a place to stay.
“I am very pleased to hear that I am your good friend, and thank you for offering me a house to stay in Phnom Penh,” Mr Thaksin wrote in Thai in his Twitter entry.
At a press conference yesterday in Phnom Penh, Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said that Mr Hun Sen made the offer to Mr Thaksin as a personal gesture of friendship.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] has the right to meet with his friends; it does not matter if they are old friends or new friends,” Mr Namhong said.
He added that Cambodia has not received a diplomatic notice from Thailand concerning the extradition of Mr Thaksin, but “If there is an official letter, we will respond.”
Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that he did not know if or when Mr Thaksin would travel to Cambodia.
“Now we don’t have any requests from Thaksin to visit,” Mr Kanharith said by telephone.
He also acknowledged that Thailand and Cambodia have a tradition of extradition, but he declined to comment on how that would be applied if Mr Thaksin pays a visit.
Meanwhile, some political analysts said Mr Hun Sen could be playing a dangerous game.
Political observer Chea Vannath pointed out that the Cambodian Constitution stipulates: “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall be an independent, sovereign, peaceful, permanently neutral and non-aligned country.”
Ms Vannath said yesterday, “I strongly believe in this theory, and the spirit of this Constitution.”
“We know that in Thailand right now, the people are divided. I prefer that Cambodia maintain its no-partisan stance on the Thailand situation,” Ms Vannath said.
She added that, in the past, departures from neutrality have not paid off for Cambodia—particularly during the Cold War.
“In Cambodia, we are supposed to maintain our independence, but somehow the Vietnam War spilled over, and we lost our neutrality. Then we got sucked into the Vietnam War, and that affected Cambodia the worst. The worst effects of that war happened in Cambodia,” Ms Vannath said.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political scientist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, described Mr Hun Sen’s offer as “sad” in an e-mail yesterday, arguing that it could not only damage relations between Thailand and Cambodia, but also enflame Thailand’s troubled domestic politics.
“I see that the deeply polarized Thai society allows someone like Hun Sen to take advantage of the vulnerable situation in Thailand,” Mr Pavin wrote.
“It could even stir up a new wave of nationalism among the [ultra-nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy], who have all this time attempted to undermine Thaksin. The PAD has always been suspicious of secret business deals between Thaksin and Hun Sen. Hun Sen’s piggybacking of Thaksin may just confirm that suspicion,” he added.
Hun Sen is scheduled to travel to Thailand today to attend the Asean summit in Cha-am.
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)