Thailand, Cambodia spar over Thaksin haven offer

BANGKOK – Thailand would seek the extradition of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra if he accepts an invitation for refuge in neighboring Cambodia, the Thai prime minister said Thursday.

The reaction came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen pronounced Thaksin a “political victim.” Hun Sen said that Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and later convicted of conflict of interest, was welcome in Cambodia _ even saying there’s a house ready for him.

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand are already strained over a border dispute over a parcel of land around an 11th century temple, and Hun Sen’s comments appeared timed to rattle Thailand as it prepares to host an annual Asian summit.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is hosting the summit of Asian leaders _ including the Cambodian premier _ this weekend under tight security to prevent protests by Thaksin supporters who overran a previous summit in April, forcing the leaders’ evacuation.

Abhisit said Thursday that Thailand will make an extradition request if Thaksin is given shelter in Cambodia but played down the impact of Hun Sen’s comments on bilateral relations.

Abhisit said he is aware of Hun Sen’s friendship with Thaksin and believes his Cambodian counterpart will differentiate between “friendship and duty.”

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya also suggested the remarks would not hurt relations.

“I cannot second-guess his intentions, but he’s a leader and a statesman and a senior member of ASEAN,” Kasit said of Hun Sen. “It is not possible that relations between two individuals are more important than relations between two countries.”

In Phnom Penh, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said his country will officially reply if Thai officials officially raise the extradition issue.

The two countries have had an extradition treaty since 2001.

Thaksin has been living mostly in self-imposed exile since he was ousted by the military. He was convicted last year of conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in prison, yet remains popular among Thailand’s rural poor who benefited from his populist programs.

Thai officials have revoked Thaksin’s passports, and much of his fortune remains frozen in Thai banks. He has been barred from several countries following diplomatic pressure from Thailand.

Past extradition attempts from other countries have failed due partly to bureaucracy and an inability to locate Thaksin, the government has said.

Since the coup, Thaksin has surfaced in Dubai, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Liberia and Montenegro in pursuit of investment opportunities.

Source: AP


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