Monday, November 9, 2009

Thaksin arrives in Cambodia

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra landed in Phnom Penh on Tuesday morning to start a job as economic adviser to the Cambodian government. A Thai government spokesman said the government will request the fugitive politician's extradition when the Foreign Ministry has confirmed his arrival there. (AFP Photo)

Fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday morning to carry out his new role as economic adviser to the government, the Cambodian government said.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan told reporters in the morning that Thaksin was in Cambodia.

"Thaksin arrived in Cambodia today at 9.45am," he said. "It is a great honour for Cambodia. We hope Cambodia as a whole will greet him warmly."

Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, exited a small private airplane at Phnom Penh military air base and was then escorted into the capital by a convoy of cars under tight security.

Cambodia announced Thaksin's appointment last week, sparking a dispute that has led Thailand and Cambodia to recall their respective ambassadors and has deepened tensions after a series of deadly border clashes in the past year.

Thailand has also said it could seal the frontier if Thaksin is not extradited, but Cambodian ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Kuoy Kong said his country was "not concerned about these issues".

"We will not extradite him (Thaksin). We already clarified this case because he is a political victim,'' Kuoy Kong said on Tuesday.

Thaksin is living in foreign locations including Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for conflict of interest while prime minister handed down by the Supreme Court in September 2008. He sksipped bail before the veredict was announced.

Thaksin Shinawatra (C) walks to a car at the Phnom Penh military air base on Tuesday morning. He landed in the Cambodian capital to carry out his new role as economics adviser to the government. (AFP Photo)

He justified his trip to Cambodia -- whose prime minister Hun Sen is a close friend and political ally -- in an open letter published on his website late Monday.

"I am not helping Cambodia to compete with Thailand. I will never do things to hurt my country no matter how badly I disagree with the government," he said.

Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City football club, was due to give a a speech to hundreds of Cambodian economics experts in the capital on Thursday. He has not said how long he will be in Phnom Penh.

Thaksin won two elections and remains a massively influential figure in Thai politics, stirring up mass protests by so-called "Red Shirt" supporters against the current government.

His presence on Thailand's doorstep is the closest he has come since he last fled the country in August 2008.

Thai government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said in the morning that the government was waiting for a confirmation from the Foreign Ministry whether Thaksin has really set foot in Cambodia as reported by news agencies.

"When the Foreign Ministry has confirmed the fact, the government would assign the Office of the Attorney-General to seek his extradition," Mr Panithan said.

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