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Thai FM Quits After Backlash Over Disputed Temple

  • Ron Corben

Thailand's foreign minister has announced his resignation from the government just days after a court ruling said he had violated the constitution by signing a communiqué with Cambodia without parliamentary approval. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok there is increasing political pressure on Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to reorganize his Cabinet.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said he was resigning and taking responsibility for signing a communiqué with Cambodia concerning a 900-year-old Khmer temple.

But Noppadon, who returned overnight from Canada after the Preah Vihear temple was granted World Heritage status, said he had "not betrayed the nation" by signing the agreement with Cambodia earlier this year.

The agreement enabled Phnom Penh to seek World Heritage status for the temple, which Thailand had in the past challenged because of a border dispute.

But Noppadom denied Thai territorial sovereignty has been impeded by signing the agreement. Earlier this week, the Constitution Court found him guilty of violating the Thai constitution by not submitting the agreement to parliament.

A representative for Human Rights Watch in Thailand, Sunai Pasuk, said the court's decision and Noppadon's resignation severely weakens the five-month-old government of Prime Minister Samak Sundarvej.

"The court ruled that the foreign minister has taken action in violation of the constitution by signing an agreement without consulting the parliament, the Cabinet has endorsed it. The government has lost its credibility completely. So now already this government is a lame duck," said Sunai Pasuk.

There is mounting pressure on Mr. Samak to undertake a wider Cabinet reorganization in an effort to restore public confidence in the administration.

The government has faced street protests from groups criticizing its close links with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is facing several charges of corruption.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak says Mr. Samak's government faces a struggle of survival over the next several months.

"Samak at a minimum will have to carry a major reshuffle to overhaul his Cabinet. But that would only buy him some time, but it would not end the protests in the streets against his administration and against his Cabinet - so Samak, down the road, his days are numbered," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak.

Several other major court decisions, including the finding this week that a key executive member of the governing party had breached electoral laws may lead to the People's Power Party being banned. Mr. Samak is also facing corruption investigations for his term as Bangkok governor.

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