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Business and Politics Surround Shinawatra Visits

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, center, gets on a car upon his arrival at a military air base in Phnom Penh, (file photo).
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, center, gets on a car upon his arrival at a military air base in Phnom Penh, (file photo).

Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former prime minister of Thailand, was slated to arrive in Cambodia late Friday, following a brief visit by his sister, Yingluck, the current premier, on Thursday.

Yingluck’s visit with Prime Minister Hun Sen was cordial and touched on some of the major issues facing the neighbors, including border demarcation, officials said.

Both visits signal a warming in relations between the countries that have soured since 2008, in the face of an ongoing military standoff near Preah Vihear temple.

Hun Sen and Yingluck agreed in principle to abide by temporary cease-fire on the border, where the UN Security Council has said there should be a demilitarized zone, officials said Thursday.

Thaksin, who is expected to stay in Cambodia until Sept. 24, will attend the Asian Economic Forum. But analysts questioned with it would be all business, or some politics.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Thaksin’s own economic deals would take precedent for his visit.

“Thaksin has more interests from investment in Cambodia and wants to continue the investment in Koh Kong [province] and to strengthen other sectors like oil and gas,” he said. “So Cambodia is willing to allow Thaksin to come and discuss some investments.”

Ou Virak warned that Cambodia had placed too much faith in the Shinawatras’ Pheu Thai Party, whose “red shirt” supporters are only one side of a political divide in Thailand.

“We have chosen the red-shirt movement, and we have openly opposed other political groups,” he said. “In general, I see such politics as dangerous politics, because political regimes always change.”

Favoring one party over another could create an “instable relationship” between the two countries, he said. “I do not see the long-term interest for Cambodia.”

Kimsour Phirith, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said Thaksin’s presence here was “symbolic” of Cambodia’s relationship with the administration of his sister. But though it offers a “good picture” of friendly relations, he said, it does not offer much gain to Cambodia.

Even so, Thaksin can provide some knowledge and experience in economics to Cambodia trade officials and businesses, said Heng Sreang, a professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

“His intelligence helped Thailand get clear of the 1990s and 2000 economic crisis,” he said.

He warned Cambodia to steer clear of Thaksin’s role in Thai politics, however, where he is a divisive figure and wanted on corruption charges.

“It will anger some Thais, or makes Cambodia look like it has a political relationship with or is creating a haven for Thaksin,” he said. “I think that’s a loss for Cambodia.”