Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hun Sen, Thaksin's eternal friend

Philip Golingai
The Star
Publication Date: 24-10-2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

What can an eternal friend, who happens to be the Cambodian Prime Minister, do to help his self-exiled billionaire politician buddy?

If you were Hun Sen, you would offer to build a beautiful home in Cambodia for Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

In Phnom Penh on Wednesday the Cambodian premier told Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the puu yai (Thai for “senior elder”) of the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party, that he was prepared to host Thaksin, who fled Thailand in August 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

“I consider Thaksin as my eternal friend. Cambodia will welcome him to stay here for anytime.

“I make the house available for him at any time if he decides to visit Cambodia,” Hun Sen told reporters after meeting Chavalit.

“Though I’m not Thai, I’m hurt by what has happened to him. My wife even cried on knowing about it and has the idea of building a home for Thaksin to come and stay honourably,” he said.

“We have been great friends since Thaksin was a businessman, and the relationship has remained the same since he entered politics,” Hun Sen said.

In Thaksinlive, Thaksin tweeted in Thai: “I have to express deepest thanks to Prime Minister Hun Sen for saying in public that I am his friend.

“I also would like to thank him for arranging me a house.”

However, Thaksin — who is currently staying in Dubai — did not say whether he would accept Hun Sen’s offer.

In an article yesterday, The Nation reported that relations between Hun Sen and Thaksin go back nearly two decades when the Thai was “an up-and-coming businessman trying to align himself with important people.”

“It started with lucrative business contracts in the area of telecommunications, with the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh. At the time Hun Sen was top man on the hill,” wrote Don Pathan, The Nation’s foreign editor.

Hun Sen’s invitation to Thaksin came two days before the Asean summit, where Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will be hosting him and other Asian leaders in Hua Hin, Thailand.

A Bangkok Post editorial cartoon yesterday succinctly illustrated the consequence of the undiplomatic invitation: Hun Sen’s right arm warmly welcoming a delighted Thaksin, while his left hand was rudely slapping a flustered Abhisit.

On Thursday, Veera Prateepchaikul, a former Bangkok Post editor, wrote:

“A shrewd politician, the Cambodian prime minister should have realised that his receiving of Chavalit at this juncture and his remark about Thaksin would embarrass if not offend the Thai government, Prime Minister Abhisit in particular.”

“But he didn’t seem bothered and appeared willingly to play into Chavalit’s political game,” he opined in the Bangkok Post.

Ever the statesman, Abhisit on Thursday told journalists he had no hard feelings towards Hun Sen.

The Thai premier said he believed his Cambodian counterpart was mature enough to differentiate matters and had no intention of interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs. He added that he would not raise the matter with Hun Sen during the Asean summit.

However, Abhisit said his government would seek Thaksin’s extradition if he ever set foot in Cambodia.

“Once Thaksin enters Cambodia the extradition process will begin. If Cambodia fails to comply with (the) treaty, that would be another story,” he said.

Don’t bet on that happening.

“If Thaksin decides to come and stay closer to home, he can rest assured it won’t be a walk into a trap,” The Nation opined yesterday.

“First and foremost, the one who invites him and who would be his host is the most powerful man in Cambodia, thus the chance of Thaksin being stabbed in the back and extradited is virtually zero.”

The article continued: “Combine the apparently heartfelt message with Hun Sen’s stormy relations with the current Bangkok leaders, an extradition request should either bounce back to the senders or head straight to diplomatic oblivion.”

Yesterday, Hun Sen’s invitation took a twist.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith claimed that it was untrue the Cambodian premier would allow Thaksin to have a permanent home in Cambodia. He added that Hun Sen was misquoted by the media.

Perhaps Thaksin can shed some light on this latest twist in his next tweet.

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