Thai ultimatum to Cambodia over Thaksin's role

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Published: January 11 2010 02:00 | Last updated: January 11 2010 02:00

Battle lines have deepened in a long-running diplomatic standoff between Thailand and Cambodia after Bangkok issued a blunt ultimatum to its neighbour.

Kasit Piromya, Thailand's foreign minister, said that there would be no normal-isation of the country's strained relations with Phnom Penh until the Cambodian government revoked the appointment of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister, as a financial adviser.

The decision by Hun Sen, Cambodia's long-serving prime minister, to appoint Mr Thaksin as a government adviser in October brought relations between the south-east Asian neighbours to breaking point. Both sides withdrew their ambassadors.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Kasit said that relations were unlikely to improve as long as Mr Thaksin's appointment stood.

"The only thing we have told Hun Sen is that his appointment of Thaksin and his interference in Thai politics is not acceptable by any international norms and standards. It is blatant interference, so it is not acceptable," Mr Kasit said.

"He must delink himself from Thaksin, otherwise there cannot be normalisation of diplomatic relations, pure and simple."

The relationship between the two countries had already been strained by a border dispute over land near the 10th-century Preah Vihear temple. Although the World Court awarded the temple itself to Cambodia in 1962, Thailand still claims a block of the surrounding land. There were a number of skirmishes between troops guarding the border last year.

Late last month Mr Hun Sen said he had obtained a document outlining a Thai government plan to mount a coup against him. He said he had passed the document to Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni to show the "bad character of our neighbouring leaders".

Mr Thaksin was removed from office in a military coup in 2006. He is now living in exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence imposed in absentia after he was found guilty of breaching conflict of interest laws - a verdict which, he says, was politically motivated.

Despite his exile, the telecommunications billionaire remains the de facto leader of Thailand's opposition and the arch-enemy of the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the current prime minister. Mr Thaksin's supporters, known as "red shirts", have vowed to launch a series of street demonstrations, starting today, until the government resigns.

"There is no international norm or practice for any leader of any country to say that 'I back one political party in order to topple down the existing and rightful government'," said Mr Kasit, who is trying to win over other regional governments to his cause.

Mr Hun Sen is unapologetic. In October he refused to extradite Mr Thaksin on the grounds that his conviction was politically motivated. He also startled observers by comparing the former prime minister, whose administration was dogged by widespread allegations of corruption and brutality, to Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate being detained in Burma.

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