Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cambodia leader: Ousted Thai PM is always welcome

By SOPHENG CHEANG,Associated Press Writer
Thursday, October 22

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Thailand's fugitive former prime minister is a "political victim" and is welcome in neighboring Cambodia any time he needs refuge, Cambodia's leader said Wednesday _ adding there's even a house ready.

Thaksin Shinawatra has been living mostly in self-imposed exile since he was ousted in a 2006 coup after six years as prime minister. He was convicted last year of conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in prison, and Thai officials have revoked his personal and diplomatic passports.

Much of his fortune remains frozen in Thai banks, and he has been barred from several countries following diplomatic pressure from Thailand.

"I would like to assure Thaksin and his supporters that Hun Sen will be his friend forever," Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters after a meeting with another former Thai prime minister, Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who recently allied with Thaksin as a member of the opposition Puea Thai Party.

"Thaksin was a political victim. I respect and like him more now than when he was a prime minister," Hun Sen said, adding that he has prepared a house where Thaksin can stay at any time.

The comments were likely to cause a stir within the Thai government, which hosts the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that starts Friday.

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand have already been sour amid a border dispute over a parcel of land around an 11th century temple.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did not respond immediately to Hun Sen's comment, but his government has frequently urged Thaksin to return to Thailand to serve the sentence. Thaksin has denied allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, has surfaced since the coup in Dubai, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Liberia, and Montenegro in pursuit of investment opportunities. He remains popular among the Thai poor who benefited from his populist policies, but he is reviled by many of the elite in Bangkok, where his administration was seen as deeply corrupt.

Britain revoked his visa in November last year, and Germany later revoked his residency permit.

Chavalit, talking with reporters on his return to Bangkok, declined to comment on Thaksin's whereabouts.

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