Thailand, Cambodia to normalize relations

Aug. 24, 2010 at 6:30 AM
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BANGKOK, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Tensions eased between Thailand and neighboring Cambodia after the exiled fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra resigned as an economic adviser to Phnom Phen.

Thailand will send back to the Cambodian capital its ambassador, Prasas Prasasvinitchai.

He was summoned back to Thailand in November soon after the Cambodian government of Hun Sen controversially appointed Thaksin, who is a wanted man in Thailand for using his office for personal gain.

"I believe that the normalized relations with the reinstatement of the ambassadors will clear the way for the two countries to more easily resolve all problems," Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.

Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Thaksin's resignation satisfied a Thai condition that he doesn't play a role in the Cambodian government before bilateral ties return to normal. "I would like to thank the Cambodian government for the intention to move forward our relations," he said.

Cambodia also has said it will send back its ambassador, You Aye, to the Thai capital Bangkok, ending the tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute that effectively froze relations between the two countries.

But the Cambodian and Thai governments, as well as Thaksin's lawyer, deny reports that Thaksin was forced to resign as a first step by both countries to normalize relations.

A statement by the Cambodian government said that Thaksin had stepped down "because of personal difficulties" that stopped him from completely fulfilling his role. "The Cambodian government accepts the request by His Excellency Thaksin Shinawatra, with thanks to the contributions that he has made to the Cambodian economy," a statement said.

Thaksin's legal adviser, Noppadon Pattama, said Thaksin's resignation "was voluntary to benefit ties between the two countries," he said. It was Thaksin's intention to quit as an adviser because his overseas business engagements left him no time to work for the Cambodian government, he said.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thaksin's resignation wasn't connected to the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. Thaksin resigned because he was "busy with a lot of work."

Relations between the two countries dipped dramatically immediately after Cambodia announced the appointment of Thaksin. On hearing of the appointment, Thailand's Cabinet threatened to tear up a 2001 memorandum of understanding to end a sensitive maritime boundary dispute in the Gulf of Thailand.

Resolution of the dispute is for the betterment of both countries as it would allow an ordered exploitation of suspected large amounts of natural gas and oil reserves on the ocean floor.

But a much more sensitive issue is a long-simmering land boundary dispute about 300 miles northeast of Bangkok. The military of both countries periodically face each other in the Preah Vihear mountains around an 11th-century Hindu temple of the same name on land, which both countries claim as their territory.

The international court of justice ruled in 1962 that the temple was on Cambodian land. But the only access to the mountaintop building is on the Thai side, which Thai troops sealed off last summer.

Around 2,000 troops from both sides are stationed across from each other on border patrol. Cross-border incidents occasionally flare up, such as in October 2008 when two Cambodian troops died and seven Thai troops were wounded in a gun battle lasting an hour.

The diplomatic row deepened after Thailand formally requested the extradition of Thaksin under an extradition treaty signed by both countries. But the Cambodian government said Phnom Phen cannot send Thaksin to Thailand because they believe his conviction in 2008 was political and not criminal.

Thaksin, 60, was ousted from his job as Thailand's prime minister by a military coup in 2006 and soon after received a 2-year prison sentence for tax fraud. He fled in 2008 rather than serve his sentence, leaving an estimated $2 billion in frozen assets.

The Thai government continues to seek Thaksin whose whereabouts often are unknown. He is wanted most recently for allegedly helping organize the major street protests that continually crippled parts of central Bangkok from February to May, which eventually left 90 people dead and some 2,000 injured.

He has denied the terrorism charges against him and has said he called for peace by the protesters during the demonstrations.

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