Thailand’s fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in Cambodia today following his appointment as economic adviser to the government, fuelling tensions between the neighbouring countries.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would seek Thaksin’s extradition and announced that his Cabinet had approved ending talks with Phnom Penh on disputed sea borders.
The toppled leader was to deliver a lecture on Thursday to more than 300 economists while in Phnom Penh.
A government spokesman said Thaksin flew into the Cambodian capital’s military airport on a private plane. State television showed that Thaksin arrived with a party of less than 10 people and was driven into Phnom Penh under very tight security provided by bodyguards of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Thaksin’s surprising appointment by Hun Sen has soured already poor relations between the two neighbours, which have had small but sometimes deadly skirmishes over their land border in the past year.
Thailand responded to the appointment by withdrawing its ambassador from Phnom Penh, and Cambodia retaliated in kind.
Abhisit said that if Cambodia did not extradite Thaksin, Thailand “will be ready with the proper response”. He did not elaborate.
He said that since Thaksin was now serving as an economic adviser to Cambodia, the Cabinet had approved terminating a memorandum of understanding on the disputed territory, which contains large petroleum deposits. The cancellation must still be approved by Parliament.
Deputy Minister of the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said Hun Sen would host a lunch tomorrow for Thaksin “because the two leaders are close friends.” He said Thaksin would stay in Cambodia at least two to three days.
“He is coming to give a lecture only so I believe that he will not do anything related to political activity here,” Phay Siphan told reporters.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup. He is living in exile, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year prison sentence for corruption.
Despite his self-imposed exile he remains at the centre of a political fight between his supporters and those of the current government. He ignited fresh controversy yesterday by speaking candidly about the nation’s constitutional monarchy.
Thaksin gave a rare extensive interview that was published by the Times website in which he spoke glowingly of the prospects for Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn once he succeeds his father, 81-year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. But he criticised the king’s close advisers for interfering with politics.
Open discussion of the succession issue is a delicate issue, in part because of strict laws that prohibit insulting the king and his family and make such criticism punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Thaksin went into exile last year ahead of a court judgment that found him guilty of violating a conflict of interest law and sentenced him to two years in jail. He served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the monarchy.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who was an anti-Thaksin activist before joining the government, said to reporters that Thaksin’s interview remarks were offensive to the monarchy, and questioned his motive for making them.
Other officials in the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also criticised Thaksin.
Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have repeatedly taken to the streets since his ouster to spar over who has the right to rule the country, sometimes sparking violence.
On a webpage he maintains, Thaksin later said that The Times had distorted his comments, especially in its headline reading, “Ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra calls for ’shining’ new age after King’s death.”
In the Times interview, which included a transcript posted online, the former prime minister was laudatory about Vajiralongkorn, whom he described as “the newer generation, modern”.
“He has a very strong determination to do what he really wants to achieve,” said Thaksin.
He also offered repeated, almost fulsome praise of Bhumibol, but said the circle of people around him, particularly his main adviser, former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, had illegitimately interfered in politics.
Many people believe Prem engineered the coup against Thaksin, a charge Prem has denied.
The king has been in hospital for almost two months with a lung ailment.