Cablegate: Hun Sen Maneuvers Over Possible Thaksin Visit

DE RUEHPF #0815/01 3030909
P 300909Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/30/2019



1. (C) SUMMARY: Cambodian officials cite personal relations
as justification for a possible visit by former Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in November. Some also cite the
Preah Vihear situation, which has seen no diplomatic movement
since April. Prime Minister Hun Sen appears to be taking a
longer view of Cambodian-Thai relations -- maneuvering to
keep the current government attentive to Cambodia's needs
while cozying up to a potential future (read Pheua Thai)
government in Bangkok grateful for Cambodia's strong support.
Hun Sen's bottom line seems to be a deal on Preah Vihear
that both countries can live with, even if one Thai party
cannot. In the meantime, Thai and Cambodian regional
military commanders reinforced October 27 the message that
armed confrontation should be avoided. Although units on
both sides remain on alert, peaceful intentions were
reiterated by line commanders at Preah Vihear on October 29,
who voiced support for the bilateral Joint Border Committee.

No Official Confirmation?

2. (C) Noun Chivorn, Deputy Director-General of the MFA
ASEAN Department confirmed October 29 that no official
messages had been received regarding a visit by Thaksin.
Noting the heavy media speculation, he said that the story
was being driven by the newspapers since Hun Sen's remarks on
October 21 inviting Thaksin to Cambodia and offering to
appoint him as an economic advisor. Phay Siphan, Secretary
of State and Spokesperson in the Council of Ministers, echoed
the view that a media frenzy had stirred up a hornet's nest
but noted that so far, there had been only one personal
message delivered to Hun Sen from Thaksin expressing
gratitude for Hun Sen's personal support. On October 30 MFA
spokesperson Koy Kuong repeated there were no official
indications of a visit but added that reports from the press
of an impending Thaksin visit appeared to be "credible."

Only a Personal Relationship?

3. (C) Phay Siphan acknowledged that a visit may indeed be
possible and that it would "present difficulties" for
Cambodia. He nevertheless emphasized that if Thaksin chose
to visit it would be the personal visit of a long-term
friend. Sry Thamarong, close foreign affairs advisor to Hun
Sen, said that the whole matter should be viewed as "only
personal" with no connection to official relations between
Cambodia and Thailand. He nonetheless hinted that a short
visit was in the works. "Thaksin has no business here," he
said. "He has billions to look after elsewhere," he
emphasized, "so even if Thaksin came for a visit to Cambodia,
he would have no reason to stay." When asked about the
extradition of Thaksin from Cambodia to Thailand, Phay Siphan
said that Cambodia reserved the right to interpret its treaty
obligations consistent with international law. (NOTE: On
October 23, a hastily issued MFA press release stated that
Cambodia would not extradite Thaksin to Thailand. END NOTE.)
Phay Siphan emphasized that he was speaking only about a
possible visit, "if" Thaksin chose to make it. That said, a
senior minister advisor to Hun Sen has confirmed that
Thaksin's people have been on the ground in Cambodia for some
time, and that Hun Sen already signed the order appointing
Thaksin an economic advisor.

Mind Boggling!

4. (C) An ASEAN embassy official commented that it "boggles
the mind" to think about what Hun Sen intended when he "stuck
it to the Thai" at the ASEAN summit October 23 by his
statements inviting the fugitive from Thai justice and to
appoint him as an economic advisor. It was embarrassing to
the hosts and not in the interests of Cambodia, he noted. He
speculated that Hun Sen was mad about something the Thai had
done behind the scenes but noted that it "was a case of Hun
Sen saying what he says and everybody scrambling to explain

A Diplomatic Feint and Maneuver?

5. (C) That Preah Vihear was uppermost on Hun Sen's mind
before the ASEAN summit was obvious after the Cambodian
Ministry of Foreign Affairs had seized on an article quoting
the Thai foreign minister as favoring a neutral third party

PHNOM PENH 00000815 002 OF 002

to take up the border dispute. The RGC slyly suggested that
ASEAN might be considered, causing the Thai FM to quickly
clarify the record and reassert that Preah Vihear should be
solved bilaterally. That Hun Sen deliberately repeated his
"personal" support for Thaksin on the opening day of the
ASEAN summit made it abundantly clear that he is not happy
with the current Thai government and that he is not convinced
the Thai government has the willingness or even the ability
to resolve the Preah Vihear dispute anytime soon.

Border Meetings Ease Tensions

6. (SBU) In the meantime, Cambodian and Thai military and
border officials continue to meet. Siem Reap governor Sou
Phirin told embassy staff that an October 27 meeting focused
on avoiding military confrontation and maintaining border
security. Cambodian Military Region 4 commander Gen. Chea
Mon and newly installed Thai Military Region 2 commander LTG
Wiwalit Chonsamrit were in attendance, as were the three
Cambodian governors from Preah Vihear, Siem Reap, and Banteay
Meanchey and four deputy governors from the adjacent Thai
provinces. "The meeting was unofficial" Sou Phirin said.
"Both sides agreed to avoid armed confrontation and respect
law and order to make the disputed border as peaceful as
before that of last July. The two sides agreed to facilitate
the work of the Border Committees of the two countries to
implement their duty."

7. (SBU) On October 29, the line commanders at Preah Vihear
met once again and Cambodian press reports indicate that
although units on both sides of the border remain on high
alert, their commanders repeated their joint desire for
avoiding armed clashes. Cambodian Commander Srey Deuk and
his Thai counterpart (identified as Gen. Suvatchai) also
pledged to leave the resolution of border issues to the
bilateral Joint Border Committee (JBC) (Ref A).


8. (C) Hun Sen wants to deal with a Thai counterpart who can
deliver on Preah Vihear. It seems clear to the RGC that the
current Thai government has placed the border issue well down
on the Parliamentary agenda and the lack of diplomatic
movement (Ref A) reflects that low priority. By establishing
informal party-to-party relations between CPP and Pheua Thai
(Hun Sen met former Thai PM Chavalit October 21 as vice
chairman of the CPP) Hun Sen is betting on Pheua Thai's
ascendancy and is taking first steps to cement what he may
view as a more productive bilateral relationship. This
remains true notwithstanding the statements of other RGC
officials, who have been out in force repeating the message
that Thai-Cambodian relations on all fronts remain positive
and friendly.

9. (C) But this reserved approach -- especially in view of
protracted and incremental diplomatic activity on the border
issue -- has clearly made Hun Sen impatient. He is playing
to a rambunctious domestic polity fed up with perceived Thai
dissembling and unable to shoulder the cost of a huge army
stationed at the border. Some RGC officials have referred to
the provocations of Thai yellow shirts regarding Preah
Vihear, and to a general state of Thai "anarchy" as
negatively affecting Cambodia (through lower numbers of
tourist visits, for example). In addition, recent shootings
of Cambodian civilians by Thai militia (Tahan Prahn) along
the Thai border have been a festering popular grievance that
was reportedly aired in the October 27 civilian-military
meeting in Siem Reap. Hun Sen's flamboyant performance at
Hua Hin may have had some subtle nuances after all, with a
cathartic effect at home and a wake-up call for a little more
respect -- and action -- from his neighbor.

© Scoop Media

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