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12 November 2009 

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Thasksin Delivers Speech in Phnom Penh

12 November 2009

Thailand's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, continued a controversial visit to Cambodia with a speech to economists and businessmen Thursday, during which he managed to take a swipe at his political opponents.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra speaks during an economic conference at the finance ministry in Phnom Penh, 12 Nov 2009
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra speaks during an economic conference at the finance ministry in Phnom Penh, 12 Nov 2009
Thaksin Shinawatra told officials and businessmen that he hopes his new role as an economics adviser to the Cambodian government would help the both countries.

"I see a lot of synergy between your country and mine," he said.  "What is good for you may also be good for my country. This is why ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] exists."

His appointment as an economic adviser angers Thailand, which wants Mr. Thaksin to serve a two-year jail term on corruption charges. On Wednesday it asked Cambodia to extradite the former prime minister, a request Phnom Penh turned down. The Cambodian government says the court case against Mr. Thaksin was politically motivated.

Officials in Bangkok worry that Mr. Thaksin will use his time in Cambodia to meddle in Thai politics. Phnom Penh says its laws bar foreigners from political activity on Cambodian soil.

However, Thai news media report that 100 members of a political party that backs Mr. Thaksin will go to Phnom Penh on Friday to meet with him.

A Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman says the government is looking into the reports, and plays down the significance of any such trip, saying it would be purely a courtesy call.

As relations between the two nations sink to their lowest point in years, Mr. Thaksin hit back at his political foes in Thailand.

Strengthening Cambodia's economy, he said Thursday, would benefit Thailand too, even though some of his fellow Thais feel differently.

"I do not believe those who do not share our vision now are myopic. Their domestic political compulsions force them to false patriotism," he said.  "Let's pray that they too will one day appreciate this partnership."

The dispute over Mr. Thaksin's visit to Cambodia adds to tensions between Phnom Penh and Bangkok. The two countries have been at odds for more than a year over a disputed ancient temple just inside the Cambodia border. The disagreement has led to military clashes in the area.

Mr. Thaksin was twice elected prime minister, but was ousted in a military coup three years ago. He remains popular among Thailand's rural communties and with the urban poor, but the country's middle class accuse of him being corrupt and authoritarian.

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