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Cambodia Rejects Extradition Request for Thaksin

Cambodia has officially rejected a Thai extradition request for its ousted premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, who arrived in Phnom Penh Tuesday as a new economic adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Thaksin faces a two-year prison sentence if he returns to Thailand, but Hun Sen has said he considers the case against him politically motivated, exempting Cambodia from its extradition obligations to Thailand.

Hun Sen told reporters Wednesday that he met with Thaksin at his house in Kandal province, just outside Phnom Penh, and that Cambodia had officially denied an extradition request issued through the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Removed from power in a bloodless coup in 2006, Thaksin is a politically divisive figure in Thailand, and the tacit support shown him by the Cambodian administration has created a deep diplomatic rift, including the mutual withdrawal last week by ambassadors on each side.

In an official letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited a provision of its treaty with Thailand that exempts extradition in politically motivated cases.

Thai officials in Phnom Penh declined to comment Wednesday, but Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quoted in Thai media saying he had ordered his the Thai Foreign Ministry to revise its cooperation with Cambodia.

A Cambodian government spokesman said Thaksin had arrived on a small, private airplane at Phnom Penh’s military airbase Tuesday and was escorted into the capital in a convoy of vehicles under tight security.

In a statement carried by Cambodian state-run TVK Wednesday, Thaksin said he meant no harm to Thailand, and he urged Thais to continue to work for the economy and poverty reduction.

Hun Sen was expected to host Thaksin for dinner Wednesday night. On Thursday, Thaksin is scheduled to give a speech to more than 300 officials at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The row over the former prime minister, who lives in exile but maintains a following in Thailand strong enough to upset the ruling party, has deepened an ongoing crisis over border areas near Preah Vihear temple, where soldiers form each country have been entrenched since July 2008.

It has also potentially damaged an agreement over offshore oil blocks. Thailand has threatened to cancel an existing agreement on an overlapping 26,000 square kilometers of sea area thought to harbor oil reserves.

Cambodian officials say it would be difficult to cancel the agreement, made in 2001, which has allowed progress on offshore oil exploration that would be potentially lucrative for the country.