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Yingluck Visit Boosts Thai-Cambodia Relations

  • Robert Carmichael

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, walks together with Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra, center, as she reviews an honor guard inside the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, walks together with Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra, center, as she reviews an honor guard inside the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011

Thailand’s recently elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has made her first official visit to Cambodia. The one-day trip marks a new start in bilateral relations, which have been poor in recent years.

Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen have begun the process of rebalancing matters between the two neighbors, after years of deterioration.



New allies?

Phnom Penh was openly thrilled in July when Yingluck’s party won Thailand’s general election and replaced the Abhisit government that Cambodia felt it could not work with.

Prime Minister Yingluck leads the political party of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister and an ally of Hun Sen.

Abhisit’s tenure saw relations between the two nations decline to their lowest point in years and was marked by an escalating war of words and a series of border clashes that left at least 28 dead this year. ASEAN group chair Indonesia led efforts to mediate a ceasefire.

And in July the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled both sides must withdraw troops from disputed land near the Preah Vihear temple.

Bilateral meeting

Cambodia’s Information Minister Khieu Kanharith says the two leaders discussed the issue in Phnom Penh.

"First of all, when we talk about border, prime minister [Hun Sen] says we have to follow the decision of the International Court, and also keep the role of the Indonesians," said Kanharith. "The Thai prime minister agreed."

Khieu Kanharith says Cambodia and Thailand have also agreed to work together to clamp down on cross-border crime.

Business trip


Thailand said it would send a group of businessmen to Cambodia later this year to try and boost trade and investment. Trade has been flat for the past year or two, while Thai investment into Cambodia collapsed.

Another bone of contention this year was the jailing in January of two Thai nationalists, Veera and Ratree, who crossed into Cambodia illegally. The two received sentences of six and eight years, and Phnom Penh has said many times since that they will not be entitled to release until serving at least two-thirds of their term.

But Khieu Kanharith hinted some movement might be forthcoming.

"As a message to the mother of Veera and the sister of Ratree, that the government is seeking the way to have the release of the two convicts according to Cambodian legal procedure," said Kanharith.

He said Cambodia's king is entitled to reduce sentences, even though the government would not.

Optimism

In summary, Kanharith said the talks were fruitful.

Earlier, Cambodian government spokesman Koy Kuong had said he expected the visit to restore bilateral relations and cooperation in all fields, with an emphasis on resolving differences through dialogue.

Outstanding issues between the countries include demarcating disputed stretches of their border, a process that stalled under Abhisit, and how to share oil and gas in a 27,000-square-kilometer zone in the Gulf of Thailand.

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