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Cambodian Opposition Leader Denied Entry Into Thailand

Cambodia's opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has been denied entry into neighboring Thailand, where he was to speak about Cambodia's recent parliamentary elections. The incident comes as Thailand and Cambodia are trying to repair their relations following anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh last January. Sam Rainsy, whose party came second in the recent Cambodian elections, was due to speak to foreign correspondents in Bangkok Thursday during a stopover en route to Paris. Instead, he was turned away by Thai authorities when he arrived at Bangkok international airport late Wednesday evening. It was anticipated that the Cambodian politician would allege that the July 27 elections had been riddled with irregularities, despite a conclusion by international observers that the polling was generally fair.

According to official election figures, the election was won by Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, the CPP.

This was the second time this year that Sam Rainsy has been prevented from entering Thailand. The first came after riots in Phnom Penh in January that left the Thai embassy in ruins and damaged several Thai-owned businesses.

On that previous occasion, Sam Rainsy had been expected to speak out against Hun Sen for failing to control the street violence, but the Thai government said no Cambodians were welcome in the country at that point.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, said the government this time felt it was "inappropriate" for Mr. Rainsy to discuss Cambodian politics so soon after general elections.

"Perhaps it's not the appropriate time and we don't want Thailand to become an arena for domestic political rhetoric or campaigning - that's the reason - and we asked for [Mr. Rainsy's] understanding," he said.

This week's incident coincides with efforts by the two governments to rebuild a relationship that was seriously damaged by the January rioting. Bangkok temporarily severed diplomatic ties after the riots, and demanded an apology and compensation for the damage from the Cambodian government.

Newspaper reports in Bangkok said the order to bar Sam Rainsy this week came directly from the office of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Preliminary results from Cambodia's vote indicate that the CPP failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority needed for the party to form a government on its own.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he will lead the new government no matter what, while the royalist party known as Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party say they will not join a coalition unless the prime minister steps aside.

Sam Rainsy was expected to talk in Bangkok about that political impasse.