Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thailand warns against Cambodian home for fugitive ex-premier Thaksin

Thu, 22 Oct 2009

Bangkok - Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra risks being extradited back to Thailand if he takes up an offer of a home in Cambodia, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban warned Thursday. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, often at loggerheads with the Thai government, on Wednesday offered shelter to Thaksin, who is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term at home for abuse of power.

The surprise invitation came two days before the start in Thailand of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand, to which both Thailand and Cambodia belong.

About 18,000 soldiers and police have been deployed to protect the 16 leaders attending from protestors loyal to the populist Thaksin. A summit in April had to be cancelled when pro-Thaksin demonstrators broke into the venue.

Thaksin, overthrown in a bloodless military coup in September 2006, is loathed by much of the Thai elite and middle class, but his populist economic policies have given him a big following among the poor. His critics have accused him of seeking to become an authoritarian leader, a label often also applied to Hun Sen.

Hun Sen praised Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, as a "great friend" and a victim of unfair politics who deserved a respectable home.

Hun Sen made the remarks at a meeting with veteran Thai politician and former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyuth, a senior member of Thaksin's Puea Thai Party.

Suthep said the meeting was "purely aimed at creating a good image for the deposed premier," the Bangkok Post reported Thursday.

Diplomats gearing up to attend the three-day ASEAN summit noted how the timing of the offer served to remind everyone that Thaksin still considers himself a major political figure three years after his ouster.

The secretary general of the Thai Foreign Ministry, Chawanont Indarakomalsut, played down fears that the former prime minister might find lodgings in a neighbouring country. He told the Post that it was hard to imagine Hun Sen damaging relations with Thailand, even if Thaksin was a friend.

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