Gen Chavalit: Mediator or divider?

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Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s first effort to bring about national reconciliation as Puea Thai party chairman by visiting Cambodia and meeting Prime Minister Hun Sen was a miserable flop. Not only did he fail to mend fences, he managed to fuel tensions between the two countries and raised suspicions locally about his real motives.

If national reconciliation is really one of a few objectives that Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh aspires to, to justify his decision to join the opposition Puea Thai party, then his first attempt to realise that objective was a complete fiasco.

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Two days before the start of the 15th Asean Summit in Hua Hin and Cha-am beach resort townships, the retired general flew to Phnom Penh for a one-day visit during which he met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Upon his return home, he told reporters of Hun Sen’s sympathy for exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his generous offer of temporary refuge in Cambodia for the fugitive.  

hunsen_pressArriving in Bangkok to attend the Asean Summit, Hun Sen confirmed his feelings for Thaksin, and went even further by likening the deposed Thai premier to Burma’s iconic democracy crusader Aung San Suu Kyi.

 As expected, Hun Sen’s unprovoked inflammatory remarks prompted a sharp response from an annoyed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Dusit Poll, of the Rajabhat Institute, reported that 70 per cent of people surveyed felt that Gen Chavalit’s untimely diplomacy tended to increase tension between Thailand and Cambodia.  Of these, 40 per cent believed that the trip to Cambodia was part of a political game to help Thaksin and 30 per cent believed it was intended to stir up trouble.

Given the opinion survey result, plus the negative reactions of the government and a group of senators to the whole saga generated by Gen Chavalit’s visit and Hun Sen’s remarks about Thaksin, there is little doubt that the Puea Thai chairman’s  supposed attempt to bring about national reconciliation or to mend fences between Thailand and Cambodia was a complete failure.

Unless, of course, the real purpose of his self-initiated diplomacy was totally different from his stated objectives – and was not to restore national reconciliation as he preached.

But Gen Chavalit has yet to admit his failure and to apologise to the peoples of Thailand and Cambodia for his bungled diplomacy. He has unnecessarily soured relations between the two neighbours and generated  misunderstanding and distrust between Thais and Cambodians.

 And if the retired general really has the national interest at heart and wants to leave behind a memorable legacy, then he should rethink his next ”diplomatic” move, which is to visit Burma and then Malaysia.

 He should put off his planned visits and and do some deep soul-searching about what he had just done to his home country and his countrymen.  

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor
Bangkok Post / Opinion
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