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09BANGKOK2867 THAI-CAMBODIAN SPAT: THAKSIN REPORTEDLY TO VISIT TO PHNOM PENH THIS WEEK

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SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, P; NSC FOR BADER

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/09/2019

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PBTS, TH, CB

SUBJECT: THAI-CAMBODIAN SPAT: THAKSIN REPORTEDLY TO VISIT

TO PHNOM PENH THIS WEEK

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 2849

B. BANGKOK 1822

 

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission James F. Entwistle,

reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

 

1. (C) Summary: In a move certain to inflame bilateral

tensions, fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

reportedly will visit Phnom Penh November 12 to address the

Cambodia Ministry of Economy and Finance. The Thai

government has repeatedly stated that it will ask Cambodia to

extradite Thaksin per a joint extradition treaty but Phnom

Penh has publicly stated it will refuse the request. The

appointment last week of Thaksin as an economic advisor to

Hun Sen (Ref A) risks damaging prospects for negotiations to

resolve border disputes, as the RTG plans to cancel a 2001

MOU that addresses mechanisms for overlapping sea claims in

the weekly Cabinet meeting November 10, and the Thai

Parliament appears likely to delay by three months or more

approval for demarcation of disputed land borders, originally

scheduled for routine approval in the November 9 session.

The situation at the border remains calm, with informal

Thai-Cambodian military talks increasing in an attempt to

prevent the diplomatic dispute from sparking a broader

conflict. End Summary.

 

2. (C) Comment: A visit by Thaksin to Phnom Penh would

unquestionably increase political tensions. The move comes

on the heels of more polls that show the Thai public mood

moving significantly against Thaksin, as his and Hun Sen\’s

actions have been judged by the public to have gone against

Thailand\’s interests. Since several of the most credible,

level-headed Thaksin associates told us November 4 that they

had advised him against a Cambodia trip, the announcement

raises the question that surfaced at the time of the April

violence: whose advice is Thaksin taking? While we are

encouraged that the two militaries have made principled

efforts to ensure that the dispute does not raise military

tensions, continued efforts by Thaksin and Hun Sen to provoke

the Thai government would likely be seen by many Thai as

reasonable justification for stronger reaction by the Thai

government against Cambodia. We will continue to urge calm

and restraint in our interaction with RTG officials. End

comment.

 

THAKSIN TO VISIT PHNOM PENH THIS WEEK

————————————-

 

3. (U) According to November 9 media reports, fugitive former

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will visit Phnom Penh this

week to address the Cambodia Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Thaksin would

November 12 give a briefing to Cambodian economic experts,

one week after being named economic advisor to Hun Sen.

 

4. (U) Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reiterated

publicly November 8 that the RTG would seek the extradition

of Thaksin if he traveled to Cambodia. The two countries

have an extradition agreement, but the Cambodia government

has so far maintained publicly that it would not extradite

Thaksin because the treaty contains a mechanism to deny

extradition if a government considers the offense to be

political in nature. (Note: Thaksin was convicted in October

2008 by the Thai Supreme Court for corruption, sentenced to

two years\’ imprisonment; he skipped the country prior to the

conviction after being released on bail. End note.)

 

SETBACK TO BORDER AGREEMENTS

—————————-

 

5. (C) The Thai Cabinet plans to cancel November 10 a 2001

Thai-Cambodian memorandum of understanding on overlapping sea

claims in the Gulf of Thailand, according to news reports.

The MOU, signed when Thaksin was premier, provides a

framework for negotiated demarcation of the area in the Gulf

of Thailand and on joint deals to develop gas and oil there.

Scrapping the MOU could significantly slow resolution of the

Preah Vihear border dispute, as Deputy Prime Minister Suthep

Thaugsuban told EAP Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell in

 

BANGKOK 00002867 002 OF 003

 

July, shortly after a meeting with Hun Sen, that he believed

a grand compromise could be forged with Cambodia over the

disputed territory around Preah Vihear temple and the

overlapping sea claims (Ref B).

 

6. (U) The Thai parliament was initially scheduled to

consider approval of agreed minutes of Thai-Cambodian Joint

Boundary Commission (JBC) meetings in November 2008, and

February and April of this year in the session starting

November 9, but media are reporting such approval, required

for the next round of JBC discussions, may now be delayed due

to the recent escalations in Thai-Cambodian tensions.

Approval by Parliament is required by Section 190 of the

Constitution before Thai negotiators can proceed with joint

surveys and demarcation of disputed border areas, including

near the Preah Vihear temple. A joint Senate-House meeting

will be held this week, but the Bangkok Post reported Senator

Khamnoon Sitthisaman as saying that legislators were likely

to delay approval because of Hun Sen\’s actions in regard to

Thaksin. Parliament would instead form a joint committee of

MPs and senators to study the issue, Khamnoon said. The

study could continue until next February, as parliament goes

into recess November 28.

 

7. (C) Vasin Teeravechyan, the Thai JBC chairperson, told us

November 9 that the request for Parliamentary approval was a

normal procedure, and that the minutes had been agreed upon

together at the last JBC meeting in April. As such, it was

not unusual that Parliament would only now consider the

issue. According to Vasin, the decision on when to convene a

joint session of the House and Senate was the prerogative of

the President of the National Assembly Chai Chidchob. A

parliamentary official confirmed to us November 9 that the

joint session would likely set up a joint extraordinary

committee comprising of members of both chambers to

scrutinize the issue for 90 days, before re-submission to the

National Assembly.

 

MILITARY COORDINATION AT THE BORDER BUT TRADE AFFECTED

——————————————— ———

 

8. (U) The situation at the border remained calm but

cross-border trade and visits had been affected, according to

media accounts. Thai Second Army Commander Wiwalit Jonsamret

over the weekend publicly said that he had met with General

Jia Dara, Cambodian Deputy Supreme Commander, to ensure order

along the border. The two sides reportedly agreed that the

ongoing spat was an issue between governments and that it

should not impact relations between the two militaries.

 

9. (U) There were mixed reports about the effect of the

diplomatic tiff on border trade. Thai daily Naew Na reported

November 8 that the Thai-Cambodian dispute had reduced normal

business along the border, alarming some local Cambodians to

the point where they had begun to hoard food and other goods.

The newspaper also reported a drop in number of Thais

crossing border at Aranyaprathet to go to casinos in Poipet.

 

REDSHIRTS ADVISE CAUTION…BUT ADVICE APPARENTLY UNHEEDED

——————————————— ————

 

10. (C) Thaksin\’s apparent decision to accept Hun Sen\’s

invitation and travel to Phnom Penh will apparently come as a

surprise to members of his inner circle. On November 4 we

met separately with former Deputy Prime Minister and close

Thaksin ally Sompong Amornvivat, as well as red-shirt leader

Vira Musikapong, to discuss Thaksin\’s latest moves. Both

Sompong and Vira told us that they had counseled Thaksin

against going to Phnom Penh, arguing that there was little to

be gained by making the trip. According to Sompong, simply

suggesting he might travel to Cambodia had already triggered

the desired result: an overreaction by PM Abhisit and the

RTG. Sompong told us that he had advised Thaksin to avoid

pushing the issue any further, suggesting to him that he try

to strike a balance between making the government look bad —

which he said had already been accomplished by provoking a

public reaction — and damaging the national interest, which

he risked doing by actually traveling to Cambodia. When we

asked Sompong whether his advice had registered with Thaksin,

 

BANGKOK 00002867 003 OF 003

 

he told us that he believed that it had, and predicted

Thaksin would not go.

 

POLLS AND MEDIA STRONGLY BACK ABHISIT

————————————-

 

12. (SBU) If Hun Sen and Thaksin sought to bring pressure on

Abhisit, their actions appeared to have backfired, at least

in the short term. Support for Abhisit has shot up since the

controversy over Thaksin and Cambodia started. An ABAC poll

conducted November 6 showed that 83% of Thais believe that

Thaksin\’s actions with Hun Sen had hurt Thailand. The same

poll showed that the approval rating for Prime Minister

Abhisit was 60%, while that of Thaksin had fallen to 21%.

This stands in stark contrast to an ABAC poll conducted

October 22-24, during the first days of the ASEAN Summit and

Hun Sen\’s public offer to host Thaksin in Cambodia, which

reported that the approval rate for Thaksin was 25%, while

the rate for Abhisit was 22%.

 

13. (SBU) Editorials in Thai-language press have for the most

part shown strong support Abhisit\’s actions to date in the

dispute with Cambodia. Krungthep Turakit, a top

business-oriented daily, called PM Abhisit\’s decision to

downgrade Thai-Cambodian relations by recalling the Thai

Ambassador in Phnom Penh the right move. Naew Na, another

Thai-language daily, said that the poll numbers should make

Thaksin and his lackeys realize that their actions have hurt

the country. Kom Chad Luek, the third largest daily, called

for Thaksin to resign from being a Thai.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:24 am

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