Friday, October 30, 2009
By Frank G. Anderson
Column: Thai Traditions
Published: October 30, 2009
(Posted by CAAI News Media)
Nakhonratchasima, Thailand — Last April the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s English-language daily, ran an article passing on a “leak” from the Royal Thai Air Force that it had tracked former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s private jet as it crossed the border into Cambodia, once each at Phnom Penh and Koh Kong.
At the time, Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh denied any contact between Cambodia and Thaksin. He rhetorically asked why Thaksin would want to come to Cambodia, and added that his country could do nothing to help the fugitive prime minister. He also said, "I have never seen Thaksin come here to Cambodia.”
So perhaps a few eyebrows were raised when Cambodia’s prime minister indicated in late October that he had a warm place in his heart for Thaksin.
Hun Sen, as he arrived in Thailand on Oct. 23 for the latest ASEAN summit, loudly proclaimed that Thaksin was welcome in his country and that he would not extradite him to Thailand if so requested by Thai authorities. He even pointed out that Article 3 of a Thai-Cambodian extradition treaty prohibits the extradition of those accused of political offenses. He went further to suggest that he would appoint the fugitive to be his economic adviser.
In response, Thailand’s current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva politely but pointedly told the Cambodian leader that he should not let himself be used as a pawn, but should work with other ASEAN members to meet the organization’s goals
Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban subsequently had a two-hour talk with Hun Sen explaining the Thai government’s position regarding Thaksin. Suthep came out of the meeting publicly confident that Hun Sen would not make any more such comments. Perhaps privately he knew better.
According to claims by the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy, the ousted prime minister had already established friendly relations – allegedly in the form of personal financial benefits – with the Cambodian government in parlaying Thai sovereignty over the temple of Khao Phreah Vihear that sits on the two countries’ border for offshore oil concessions from Cambodia, that Thaksin would allegedly benefit from.
Hun Sen’s apparent disregard for Thailand’s sensitivities is not really all that difficult to understand. Like Europe and other countries that considered hypocritical certain policies by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, so too it is likely that Cambodia feels Thailand is hypocritical – saying one thing but doing quite another.
Thai people, unsurprisingly, have different opinions concerning Hun Sen’s comments in support of Thaksin, but most appear to be critical. One pro-PAD activist, in fact, threatened to lead a large group of protesters to surround the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, mostly because of the Khao Phreah Vihear temple dispute, but also because of what is viewed as Cambodian government interference in domestic Thai politics.
One protest leader who did demonstrate against the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok said, “Hun Sen's action intentionally showed hostility to Thailand, its government and its military as well as the Thai people. It is interference in Thai politics.”
As if for Thailand to further shoot itself in the foot over the issue of handing Cambodia hundreds of acres of land around Khao Phreah Vihear, Thai TV viewers were treated to a speech by Lt. Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, an army specialist and flamboyant individualist, in a recent TV interview.
When asked about the real problem behind the Khao Phreah Vihear issue and why the army could not resolve what Thailand views as seizure of its territory, Sawasdipol replied, “The army … it’s a ‘play golf’ army, ‘country club’ type. That’s why.” This is the same man who had earlier helped train guards for the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts until told by his superiors to stop, and who had allegedly been involved in violence against the People’s Alliance for Democracy in 2008.
Thailand’s relations with its “friendly neighboring countries” Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Malaysia have been traditionally less than ideal – for the majority of people in each nation, that is. But for business and political sleight-of-hand on both sides, the relationship has been very lucrative. Thaksin and look-alike “investors” gained immense fortunes through various deals with all these countries, including telecommunications contracts, oil concessions, lumber operations, construction and more.
For his part, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has his hands full keeping together a weak political coalition that has been described as one where everyone gets what he wants, and may abandon the ship, sinking the coalition, if he doesn’t.
This coalition includes Pranawm Phokham, parliamentarian from Nakhonratchasima and board member of the Motherland Party, which is composed of both pro- and anti-Thaksin members. A glittering example of the fruit of Pranawm’s labor during his political life includes a multimillion dollar resort home, now under construction near a controversial forestry reserve region of Wang Nam Khiew in Nakhonratchasima province.
Pranawm was one of 28 members of parliament who voted for Abhisit to become prime minister. Quid pro quo for Pranawm may include Thailand’s own version of its U.S. counterpart, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
(Frank G. Anderson is the Thailand representative of American Citizens Abroad. He was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer to Thailand from 1965-67, working in community development. A freelance writer and founder of northeast Thailand's first local English language newspaper, the Korat Post – www.thekoratpost.com – he has spent over eight years in Thailand "embedded" with the local media. He has an MBA in information management and an associate degree in construction technology. ©Copyright Frank G. Anderson.)