Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ties with Phnom Penh tangled in political morass

Published on October 29, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The Democrats have proven that relations between Thailand and Cambodia depend very much on local politics.

Apart from the ruling party's link to fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, the Democrat's different roles - as the opposition last year and as the government now - is affecting its reactions to the problem.

Last June, the Democrats used Preah Vihear issue as a reason to impeach then-foreign minister Noppadon Pattama during the censure debate.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, then the opposition leader, attacked Noppadon for having signed a communiqu้ with Cambodia over a map of the Preah Vihear compound, which was used by Phnom Penh to register the temple as a World Heritage Site. Samak Sundaravej's Cabinet then endorsed the agreement.

Democrat MPs, including MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Sirichok Sopha, Alongkorn Ponlaboot, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga and Teera Slukpetch, backed Abhisit with further details.

Abhisit had asked the MPs to vote against Samak and Noppadon if they had a "Thai conscience", saying that those two had done all the damage.

Eventually though, nobody was impeached even though the court ruled that the signing of the agreement was against the Constitution.

Patriotism has become the sentiment again this year, when reports on the war of words between Abhisit and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen overwhelmed the Asean Summit during the weekend.

This was met with criticism and analyses about conspiracy theories related to Thaksin Shinawata, Hun Sen and Pheu Thai leader Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.
Still, the Democrats have not been able to clarify or prove Thaksin's "conflict of interest" or what they - as current government - could do to fix the disputes between the two countries, including the one over the 4.6 square kilometre overlapping area.

In fact, the Democrats are confusing everyone.

On the one hand, Abhisit says that ties between the two countries are still good, and that Hun Sen had misunderstood the situation. He added that talks with Cambodia are a step-by-step process and cannot be rushed.

Yet, on the other hand, Abhisit reacted quite strongly against Hun Sen's statement that Thaksin would not be extradited if he were to take refuge in Cambodia, as well as his remarks upon arrival in Thailand that he might appoint the ex-PM as his economic adviser.

Abhisit advised Hun Sen to not let "anybody use you as a pawn" and urged him to consider if the decision on Thaksin would benefit the interests of the two nations or just one individual.

Still, it was Abhisit's deputy Suthep Thaugsuban who was seen talking to Hun Sen at the Asean Summit more.

In the meantime, the Democrats are attacking Thaksin and Chavalit for betraying the country by using foreign countries to put pressure on the government as well as deplete investors' confidence in the country.

News reports on Monday said the Democrats had decided to hang on "exclusive information" proving the links between Thaksin and Hun Sen for parliamentary debate, and in a way this could be seen as a move to warn Pheu Thai against pushing the Democrats too hard.

However on Tuesday, documents containing information against Thaksin were released to reporters at the Democrat Party headquarters, though officials refused to name the source.

The five pages detailed the relationship between Thaksin and Hun Sen, Shin Corp's business in Cambodia and the Cabinet resolution on June 17 last year. They were mainly collected from Thai and Cambodian newspapers as well as websites. In other words, concrete evidence is still missing.

While the Democrats have made Thais question the Samak government over the Thai-Cambodian disputes, it now has the job of proving it can do better and that its issues are not just politics.

What next?

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