Sept 17, 2011
by The Associated Press
Thailand's former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (L) hugs Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh September 17, 2011. Thaksin arrived in Cambodia after his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand, visited on Thursday. REUTERS/Samrang Pring (CAMBODIA - Tags: POLITICS)
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's leader welcomed exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for talks Saturday, just two days after hosting Thaksin's sister, Thailand's current prime minister.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thaksin hugged and addressed each other as "brother" when they met Saturday morning at the Cabinet offices. Thaksin, who arrived late Friday night, is also scheduled to deliver a lecture on economic development and play golf during his scheduled weeklong stay.
The warm relationship between the two men contrasts with frosty ties between their two nations since Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup. There have been several deadly border clashes over disputed territory, and Hun Sen's embrace of Thaksin was sure to irk the former Thai leader's opponents, who point out that he is a fugitive running from a corruption conviction.
Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister in August after leading a pro-Thaksin party to victory in a general election, and her installation is expected to restore closer relations between Thailand and Cambodia. During a visit to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, on Thursday, she and Hun Sen agreed that troops along their disputed border should meet regularly to ease tensions and withdraw from a temple area as ordered by an international court in July.
Yingluck is also expected to attempt to rehabilitate Thaksin by obtaining a pardon or amnesty for him so he can return home without serving time in prison. Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 before being sentenced to two years in prison on a corruption charge. The billionaire ex-leader maintains a home in Dubai and frequently travels in Asia and Africa on business trips.
But Thaksin's opponents strongly oppose such a move, and high-profile activities such as his visit to Hun Sen serve as a lightning rod for criticism that he is acting high-handedly by interfering in foreign affairs.
The true depth of Hun Sen's affection for Thaksin is hard to gauge, but his very public backing of the former leader was clearly meant to irk the previous Thai government of Thaksin opponents. At one point in 2009, Hun Sen appointed Thaksin a government adviser, but Thaksin soon resigned the position.
Hun Sen said Monday that the purpose of Thaksin's visit was not to talk about the countries' border dispute around the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, competing claims to offshore oil reserves in the Gulf of Thailand or the possibility for an early release of a pair of Thai nationalist activists serving jail terms in Cambodia for spying.
Thaksin is scheduled to fly to the northwestern city of Siem Reap, site of the ancient Angkor temple complex, on Tuesday, and leave Cambodia on Sept. 24.