Cambodia rejects Thai request to arrest ex-premier

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 4:35 AM

Cambodia turned down a request Wednesday from Thailand to arrest former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who last year was sentenced in absentia by a Thai court to two years imprisonment for violating a conflict of interest law.

A statement from Cambodia's Foreign Affairs Ministry said the request to detain Thaksin for extradition would not be honored because the legal case against him was politically motivated, and therefore not covered by the countries' extradition treaty.

Thaksin is visiting Cambodia to give a lecture after his appointment last week as an adviser on economic affairs to the Phnom Penh government.

His appointment has strained relations between Cambodia and Thailand, which recalled its ambassador and scrapped an a memorandum of understanding with Phnom Penh on negotiating overlapping maritime claims over offshore territory containing large oil and gas deposits.

The two nations have already fought several small but sometimes deadly skirmishes over disputed territory on their land border in the past year and a half.

Thaksin went into self-imposed exile last year ahead of the court judgment against him. 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 country's constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The former leader's political battling against the current Thai government, which he accuses of being undemocratic, has left his country bitterly divided.

The Cambodian foreign ministry statement said Thaksin's prosecution was a consequence of his being ousted by the 2006 coup, and recalled _ using uppercase letters for emphasis _ that "he was OVERWHELMINGLY and DEMOCRATICALLY elected by the Thai people."

The phrase closely echoes arguments made by Thaksin and his many supporters in Thailand, who claimed that he was removed because he threatened the privileges of Thailand's Bangkok-centered ruling class by winning the support of the urban and rural poor.

Cambodia's long-serving strongman, Prime Minister Hun Sen, had already said that any Thai extradition request would be rejected.

Thailand's current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, expressed regret over Cambodia's rejection of the Thai request.

"Thailand will review other areas of cooperation and other aspects of our relationship but I assure you that we will not do anything that will affect the people of either country, and Thailand will not close down the border nor use military force." There is very active trade across the countries' long land border.

Thaksin received a warm welcome from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after his arrival Tuesday.

Cambodian state television showed the two men meeting at a house prepared for Thaksin by Hun Sen's government. It described the affair as a family meeting, and quoted Hun Sen describing Thaksin as a close and "eternal" friend. TV footage showed the two men smiling and enthusiastically hugging each other.

Thaksin was quoted as thanking Hun Sen for being faithful to him. Hun Sen has said he offered Thaksin a place to stay in Cambodia and made him an adviser because of their long friendship.