Phnom Penh/Bangkok – A senior Cambodian official on Thursday denied that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offered the Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra a home in Cambodia. Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Hun Sen had been misquoted by the media.
“He didn’t say that,” Khieu Kanharith said. “Some people have said we would allow Thaksin to have a permanent home in Cambodia – it’s not true.”
The comments that appeared in Cambodian and Thai media and were attributed to Hun Sen had earlier drawn a frosty response from Thailand with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban warning Thursday that Thaksin risked being extradited back to Thailand if he took up the reported offer of a home in Cambodia.
Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia, which has an extradition agreement with Thailand, knows its legal obligations.
Hun Sen, often at loggerheads with the Thai government, was reported on Wednesday to have offered shelter to Thaksin, who is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term at home for abuse of power.
Hun Sen was reported to have made the remarks at a meeting with veteran Thai politician and former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyuth, a senior member of Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party.
Suthep said the meeting was “purely aimed at creating a good image for the deposed premier,” the Bangkok Post reported Thursday.
The hubbub over the invitation came ahead of Friday’s start in Thailand of the summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which both Thailand and Cambodia belong.
About 18,000 soldiers and police have been deployed to protect the 16 leaders attending from protestors loyal to the populist Thaksin. A summit in April had to be cancelled when pro-Thaksin demonstrators broke into the venue.
Thaksin, overthrown in a bloodless military coup in September 2006, is loathed by much of the Thai elite and middle class, but his populist economic policies have given him a big following among the poor. His critics have accused him of seeking to become an authoritarian leader, a label often also applied to Hun Sen.
Hun Sen was quoted Wednesday as praising Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, as a “great friend” and a victim of unfair politics who deserved a respectable home.
The secretary general of the Thai Foreign Ministry, Chawanont Indarakomalsut, played down fears that the former prime minister might find lodgings in a neighbouring country. He told the Post that it was hard to imagine Hun Sen damaging relations with Thailand, even if Thaksin was a friend.
So, whos lying?
One day after Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh quoted Cambodian PM Hun Sen as saying he was offering a home for Thaksin Shinawatr, Khmer Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was quoted by a foreign news agency as denying that flatly.
DPA quoted Khieu as saying: “He (Hun Sen) didn’t say that. Some people have said we would allow Thaksin to have a permanent home in Cambodia. It’s not true.”
The Cambodian minister said Cambodia, which has an extradition agreement with Thailand, “knows our legal obligations.”
Chavalit met Hun Sen earlier this week after which the Pheau Thai Party’s chairman quoted the Khmer PM as saying Thaksin was his “great friend”and victim of unfair treatment who deserved a respectable home.
Chavalit quote Hun Sen as saying: “It’s a beautiful home, too.”
Hun Sen missed this morning opening ceremony of the 15th Asean Summit, saying he had to leave Phnom Penh for Bangkok later today because he had to greet visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who is also expected to be in Hua Hin for the Asean + 3 conference.