Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand wanted on corruption charges in his home country, will visit the Cambodian capital on Friday, a day after an official visit by his sister who took power in Bangkok following elections in July.
In an apparent bid to avoid any revival of allegation of conflict of interest, the trips may have been carefully arranged so that Thaksin, who is facing a jail term for abuse of power over a land deal by his former wife, does not see his sister while they are in Phnom Penh.
In a graduation speech in Phnom Penh on Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thaksin’s visit was “coincidentally” planned around the same time as that of Yingluck Shinawatra, the new prime minister of Thailand.
Thaksin’s visit, which will run until Sept. 26, will be the first since his sister took over the helm of power.
“I would like to emphasize that Thaksin has no duty or responsibility to negotiate for anything in the interest of the Cambodian-Thai relationship because this is the duty of the Thai government. It is not the duty of His Excellency Thaksin,” Hun Sen said.
“Nevertheless, it will be just a coincidence that the Thai Prime Minister [Yingluck Shinawatra] be visiting Cambodia on Sept. 15 and Thaksin’s visit to Cambodia on Sept. 16,” he said.
“The fact was that the visit of [Thaksin] was scheduled first, while the date of the Thai prime minister’s visit was scheduled afterward.”
Hun Sen was quoted by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency as saying that Thaksin’s visit was “not to talk with Cambodia on oil and gas issues" in disputed waters in the Gulf of Thailand.
Cambodia last month called for official talks with Yingluck to jointly develop areas of the Gulf of Thailand that may be rich in oil and gas amid overlapping maritime claims between the two neighbors.
Any meeting between Thaksin and his sister in Phnom Penh may also lead to a disruption of a power sharing agreement amongst Thai political parties.
The Bangkok Post quoted a source from Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party who said the prime minister would make sure to leave the country before her brother’s plane landed on Friday.
Hun Sen referred to Thaksin as his “eternal friend,” adding that the former prime minister would address the Asian Economic Forum in Phnom Penh and that the two planned to play golf together.
Thaksin was an economic adviser to the Cambodian government before being pressured to give up the role in August last year.
Yingluck notched a decisive victory in July’s polls after campaigning on policies largely mirroring those implemented during the premiership of her exiled brother, who was ousted by the military in 2006 after five years in power.
The strategy emphasizes Thailand's leading role in the international arena and desire to be a regional hub for aviation, finance, health services, and food production.
Thai-Cambodian relations are at their most calm in months, following a number of deadly military clashes which centered on an ancient temple on the two countries’ shared border earlier this year.
Last month, Hun Sen said the “nightmare” of tension with Thailand had ended and that his government would work with Bangkok to resolve differences over the 900-year-old UNESCO Heritage Site.
Influence from abroad?
The 2006 military coup that brought down populist Thaksin's democratically elected government unleashed a five-year period of political uncertainty. It also dented business confidence.
The former leader is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for corruption and terrorism charges stemming from political unrest in Bangkok last year.
Many believe Thaksin is exercising influence over his sister’s government, which has been criticized for assisting him in traveling to Japan recently. The government denies any involvement.
Thaksin is due to fly to the northwestern city of Siem Reap, Cambodia's popular tourist hub, on September 20.
Reported by Sarada Taing and Sum Sok Ry for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.