Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thailand protecting 'dignity' in Cambodia spat: PM

Thai soldier is seen near the country's border with Cambodia in Sri Sa Ket province


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

BANGKOK — Thailand's prime minister Sunday defended his actions in an ongoing spat with Cambodia over Phnom Penh's job offer to a fugitive former Thai premier, saying he had to protect the country's dignity.

"All the government has done is for dignity of the country and Thai people," said premier Abhisit Vejjajiva, adding that Thailand had acted "calmly and carefully" to deal with the recent escalation of tensions.

Cambodia and Thailand on Thursday recalled their respective ambassadors after Cambodia appointed Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as Thailand's prime minister in a coup in 2006, as an economic adviser.

Abhisit said billionaire Thaksin faced a "conflict of interest", having previously been chief of negotiations in Thailand and now working "for another side".

Thaksin is living abroad to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, but Cambodia said the charges against him were "politically motivated" and vowed not to extradite him if he travelled to the country.

"Criticising our justice system is unacceptable," said Abhisit, although he said he thought Cambodia was "misinformed".

"Everyone has to protect our justice system's dignity," he added during his weekly television programme.

The two countries have fought a series of deadly clashes on their border since July 2008 in a dispute over land around an ancient Cambodian temple that was granted UN World Heritage Status.

"There is no reason to make tensions at the border which might lead to clashes," Abhisit added.

Thailand had warned Friday that it could seal the border between the two countries and further stoked the row by saying it would tear up an oil and gas exploration deal with Cambodia.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen at a bilateral meeting in Tokyo Saturday that he was "concerned" about the spat, a Japanese official said.

The head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, General Surin Pitsuwan, also urged Thailand and Cambodia Saturday to show "maximum restraint".

He said the 10-country bloc should not be seen to be divided by the dispute ahead of a historic meeting with US President Barack Obama and regional leaders later this month. But Abhisit denied the spat would affect the summit.

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