11 Nov 2009

Cooperation with Cambodia 'under review'

All cooperation with Cambodia is being revised following Phnom Penh's official refusal of request to extradite former premier Thaksin Shinawatra back to Thailand, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday.

The Foreign Ministry had been instructed to begin the rview.

We was sorry Cambodia had decided not abide by international agreements and law, but Thailand would still not use force against its neighbour.

The border would not be closed, but the government would adopt tougher measures to discourage Thais crossing the border to gamble in Cambodian casinos.

Mr Abhisit spoke shortly after receiving Cambodia's official refusal of Thailand's request to extradite Thaksin. The decision has inflamed tensions over Phnom Penh's appointment of the fugitive former Thai premier as an economic adviser.

Thai diplomats gave extradition papers to officials at Cambodia's foreign affairs ministry early Wednesday but were then handed a note from Phnom Penh denying their request.

"Our diplomatic note answering them is nothing beyond rejecting the extradition request," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said shortly before the exchange of letters.

Cambodia had repeatedly vowed to refuse any request from its larger neighbour for the extradition of Thaksin, saying that the charges levelled against him in Thailand were politically motivated
"Thaksin's conviction is caused by the coup in September 2006, when he was the prime minister of Thailand whom Thai people voted in with an overwhelming majority in accordance with democracy,'' Hor Namhong said.

Pinich Wikitset, assistant to the foreign minister, confirmed that the Foreign Ministry had received a letter from Cambodia refusing extradition.

Mr Panich said the letter stressed that Cambodia cannot send Thaksin to Thailand because the former Thai prime minister was a political, not criminal, convict.

The government would hold a meeting to assess the development. At this stage, the Foreign Ministry would send a reply to Cambodia reaffirming that the court case in which Thaksin was sentenced to two years in jail was criminal, not political.

The verdict against Thaksin issued by the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions clearly states that Thaksin committed a criminal offence while holding the office of prime minister of Thailand, Mr Panich said.

Mr Panich said Thailand had not yet considered closing the border with Cambodia or taking other measures to pressure Cambodia.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban reaffirmed on Wednesday Thailand will not resort to closing its border with Cambodia.

He declined to comment on the Cambodian refusal, saying he would rather wait to see the official reply letter than engaging in a verbal spat through the media.

There were international diplomatic channels that could be followed in this matter, Mr Suthep said.

Mr Suthep, who is in charge of security affairs, said the Thai government would not resort "special" measures, such as sending forces into Cambodia to bring Thaksin back to Thailand, because each country has its own sovereignty to protect.

What Thailand could do now was to send an official letter explaining to Cambodia that Thaksin is a convicted criminal, not a political refugee, and that the two countries have an extradition treaty and should comply with it, he said.

Asked about Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's challenging Thailand to close the border, Mr Suthep said a politician's expression of emotion could not be taken seriously.

He said Mr Abhisit's policy is for security agencies to protect Thai sovereignty and make sure that the people along the border can lead happy, normal lives.

Tensions were already running high between the two countries following a series of clashes over a temple on their border and the row threatens to mar a weekend summit of Southeast Asian leaders with US President Barack Obama.

Thailand and Cambodia each recalled their ambassadors last week after Thaksin's appointment, and this week the Thai cabinet agreed to cancel a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia on disputed maritime boundaries, covering oil and gas exploration, signed by the Thaksin government in 2001.

Thaksin is due to give a speech to about 300 Cambodian economics experts on Thursday. Cambodian officials have said he will stay in the country for two or three days but is not intending to live there.

Cambodian state television late Tuesday showed Thaksin and Hun Sen embracing, reporting that the Cambodian leader pronounced him an "eternal friend".

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