Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some wild suggestions to end Thai-Cambodian row

Friday, November 13, 2009
By Veera Prateepchaikul
Bangkok Post

Ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra must feel at home with the red-carpet welcome accorded him by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and with his new job as economic adviser to the Cambodian government.

Mr Thaksin’s meeting with some 300 top Cambodian businessmen and officials on Thursday morning in Phnom Penh, when he delivered a lecture on economic affairs and slammed the Thai leadership, most certainly gave him a sense a de'ja'vu – recollections of the old days when he sat at the head of the table controlling the cabinet meeting and lecturing his ministers who merely listened and rarely raised objections.

And, as in the good old days when he was always surrounded by his followers, the fugitive will today be feted by Hun Sen in the company of his faithful followers from the Puea Thai party who flocked in droves into Cambodia to pay him a visit and to ostensibly engage in light chit-chat.

Aside from Hun Sen who continues to treat Thaksin as his “eternal friend”, many Cambodians, especially the grassroot people, will, I believe, warmly embrace the fugitive with the hope that he can help lift them above the poverty line, so they no longer have to envy the Thai people next door. Several businessmen who attended his lecture admitted they were impressed with him.

Personally, I don’t envy the Cambodians at all over the free-of-charge advice being delivered by Thaksin in his capacity as economic adviser. In fact, I wish them the best of luck.

Honestly speaking, the row between Thailand and Cambodia was exacerbated from Hun Sen’s unprovoked conduct and perceived interference in Thailand’s internal affairs more than it was from Thaksin’s acceptance of the job in Cambodia. This was clearly evident in Hun Sen’s interview on November 9 when he publicly insulted Thailand and the Thai justice system and accused Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of being a “thief” for stealing the premiership.

But despite Hun Sen’s unbecoming conduct, most Thais do not hold a grudges against the Cambodian people. On the contrary, many of them despise a handful of Thais whom they suspect are using the hands of Hun Sen or vice versa to hurt Thailand.

Now, since Mr Hun Sen is being so generous with Thaksin and values his friendship so highly that Thai-Cambodian relations mean nothing to him, how about granting the fugitive permanent residence in Cambodia -- so that he does not have to hop from one country to another like a drifter.

And instead of just making Thaksin an adviser, why not make him a minister, which would at least partially fulfill his ultimate ambition for a political comeback in Thailand. If that cannot be legally done, then just change the law, since Hun Sen is already in total control of the Cambodian parliament. Or he could just grant Thaksin honorary citizenship of Cambodia which is quite a common practice for a government to honour a foreign citizen in return for his or her valuable contribution to its country.

Who knows, the ousted prime minister just might even be happy with that, and finally find peace of mind in such a generous -- though admittedly outlandish – offer. And with that, just maybe, Thailand and Cambodia could forget their row over the man from the North and become good neighbours again. As they should be.


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