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Cablegate: Thailand-Cambodia Spat: Rtg Recalls Ambassador to Protest Hun Sen's Naming of Thaksin As Adviser

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #2849/01 3101014
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 061014Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8868
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2063
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7652
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5931
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0131
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7257

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002849

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, P; NSC FOR BADER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/06/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV TH
SUBJECT: THAILAND-CAMBODIA SPAT: RTG RECALLS AMBASSADOR TO PROTEST HUN SEN'S NAMING OF THAKSIN AS ADVISER

REF: A. BANGKOK 2746 (THAKSIN MOVES)
B. PHNOM PENH 815 (HUN SEN MANEUVERS OVER POSSIBLE
THAKSIN VISIT)
C. BANGKOK 2844 (CHAVALIT'S SOUTHERN GAMBIT)

BANGKOK 00002849 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: DCM James F. Entwistle, reason 1.4 (b,d)

1. (C) Summary: The Royal Thai Government recalled its
Ambassador to Cambodia late November 5 and announced a review
of all diplomatic engagement in protest of Cambodian PM Hun
Sen's naming of fugitive Thai ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra as an
economic adviser. The decision, which led to a dramatic
spike in public support for the government, came hours after
Foreign Minister Kasit laid out Thai concerns to visiting EAP
DAS Scot Marciel and asked for U.S. intervention with Hun Sen
to back off his unhelpful intervention in Thai domestic
politics. Thai contacts are unanimous in suggesting PM
Abhisit had to take measures in response to the increasingly
bold Hun Sen-Thaksin collaboration, that the diplomatic moves
were measured, and that Thailand will now await Hun Sen's
next step. Thai military sources offered reassurances that
border commanders continue to talk to each other, and that
there are no plans for additional military preparations.
That said, PM Abhisit and Army Commander Anupong reportedly
discussed scenarios and options mid-day November 5, with
Anupong assuring Abhisit that the Thai military was prepared
in the ""worst case"" scenario if Hun Sen were to initiate a
provocative military action.

2. (C) Comment: At least for now, it would appear that
Thaksin, opposition Puea Thai Chairman Chavalit, and Hun Sen
have miscalculated how the gambit to name Thaksin an adviser
to the Cambodian government, and possibly travel to Cambodia
(refs A-B), would play in the Thai domestic context. A snap
poll conducted after the Ambassadorial recall decision
indicated that popularity for Abhisit's government soared
nearly 300% overnight, from 23.3% to 68.6%, even increasing
to over 50% in the northeast, the bastion of pro-Thaksin
support and located near Cambodia. Voices across the Thai
spectrum, with the exception of core Thaksin supporters, have
been uniformly harsh in criticism of the trio -- first and
foremost Hun Sen, with prominent mention of how his
incendiary January 2003 comments led to the torching of the
Thai embassy in Phnom Penh and Thai businesses throughout
Cambodia -- but also Chavalit and Thaksin. We suggest
taking advantage of the upcoming meetings in Singapore (APEC,
US-ASEAN Leader's Meeting) to schedule pull-asides with Thai
and Cambodian leaders to urge de-escalation of the rhetoric
and a re-engagement. End Summary and Comment

FM Kasit to DAS Marciel: can you help with Hun Sen?
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (C) FM Kasit told visiting DAS Marciel and DCM early
November 5, prior to the decision to recall the Thai
Ambassador to Cambodia, that Cambodian PM Hun Sen's recent
actions, culminating in the November 4 appointment of Thaksin
Shinawatra as an economic adviser, were not merely a personal
affair, but intervention in Thai domestic politics, including
the strategic struggle between Thaksin and institution of
monarchy; as a result, ""all of Thai society was up in arms.""

4. (C) Referencing Chavalit's trip to Cambodia on the eve of
the October 23-25 ASEAN Summit in Thailand and Hun Sen's
incendiary comments upon arrival in Thailand October 23, FM
Kasit told DAS Marciel that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep
Thaugsuban and Thai military officials had met Hun Sen on
October 24 for two and a half hours on the margins of the
Summit to try to impress upon the Cambodian PM the gravity of
inviting Thaksin to Cambodia as an adviser. Since the
direct, private Thai appeal to Hun Sen to de-escalate the
rhetoric and avoid unhelpful actions had failed, Kasit asked
the USG to assist by suggesting to Hun Sen to ""stop this mad
game.""

5. (C) DAS Marciel told Kasit that the U.S. wanted to
maintain good relations with both Thailand and Cambodia,
hoped for a peaceful, bilateral resolution to the issue, but
did not view Hun Sen's comments and naming of Thaksin as
aimed at improving relations with Thailand. Kasit warned
that Hun Sen's actions were particularly provocative for
conservative elements and the military, who believed that
Thaksin aimed to bring down the Thai monarchy. Considering
the seriousness of such a goal and the implications for
domestic politics, Hun Sen should not meddle with what was a
Thai internal issue.

6. (C) Kasit opined that Hun Sen had calculated that, with
the return to the Thai political arena of General Chavalit
Yongchaiyudh -- a former Prime Minister who October 1 joined
the opposition Puea Thai party as Chairman -- elections would
be held in Thailand soon and result in Thaksin loyalists
returning to power, allowing him to benefit from
""transactional diplomacy."" Hun Sen was likely impatient
regarding the pace of bilateral dialogue concerning 4.6
square kilometers of disputed territory in the area around
Preah Vihear temple and overlapping claims in the Gulf
Thailand that could hold substantial oil and gas reserves,
said Kasit. Kasit suggested Hun Sen's frustration was based
on falsely held beliefs that Preah Vihear could be developed
into a tourist destination such as Disneyland and that the
Democrat-led Thai government would not come to an agreement
with Hun Sen over the territorial disputes.

7. (C) Kasit suggested to DAS Marciel that Hun Sen had a team
dedicated to analyzing the Thai press coverage of Cambodia,
and that Hun Sen and the Cambodian Ambassador to Bangkok
mistakenly judged that the Thai press was under the control
of the government, or worse, answered to his/Kasit's
directions. ""Hun Sen just does not understand that Thailand
is an open society, and the Foreign Minister does not write
editorials,"" he added, before alleging that a Phnom Penh
newspaper recently attacked Thai King Bhumibol, a development
Kasit termed ""unfortunate.""

8. (C) Referencing the extensive development assistance that
Thailand continued to provide Cambodia, Kasit lamented the
recent deterioration in the bilateral dynamic. Kasit
concluded the Cambodian portion of the discussion by saying
that he would soon be meeting PM Abhisit to discuss next
steps, adding that he expected he would have to ""throw a fit""
several hours later (note: presumably a reference to
informing the Cambodians of the recall of the Thai
Ambassador. Septel will cover the rest of the Kasit-Marciel
discussion).

Decision to recall Ambassador, discuss options
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (C) The subsequent Abhisit-chaired meeting included Kasit,
Army Commander Anupong, DPM Suthep, National Security Council
Sec-Gen Thawin, and Defense Minister Prawit. The Thai
resolved that a response to Hun Sen's action was essential,
but that it should be limited to diplomatic measures,
including the recall of their Ambassador to Cambodia and a
review/suspension of current diplomatic negotiations with
Cambodia. However, Thai leaders decided not to raise
military alerts, move to close the border, or limit border
trade, according to our sources. Furthermore, Abhisit
requested that Kasit himself not call in the Cambodian
Ambassador to deliver the news, but to have the DG for East
Asia to do so, to avoid the controversial Kasit becoming a
part of the most recent narrative and keeping the focus
squarely on Hun Sen and Thaksin. (Note: we think keeping
Kasit out of action was a wise move.)

10. (C) Abhisit specifically asked Army Commander Anupong
about the military's assessment of the border situation and
various scenarios, according to our sources. While the whole
group agreed it was unlikely the rhetorical-diplomatic spat
would escalate into conflict, Abhisit supposedly asked
Anupong whether the Thai army were prepared in case Hun Sen
initiated military action. Anupong, who recently carried out
a reshuffle of colonels commanding key units along the
border, replied that the Thai army was prepared to respond if
necessary.

Thai domestic reaction - closing ranks, irritated, but calm
--------------------------------------------- --------------

11. (C) Thai civilian and military officials that we have
talked to November 5-6 emphasized the border situation
remained calm, and that they expected the dispute would stay
in diplomatic channels. Sisaket Governor Rapi Phongbupakhit
and Sakeao Governor Sanit Nauksuksi separately told us that
the border situations in their provinces remained calm, with
border checkpoints and trade proceeding as usual, and that
there had been no special troop movements in their provinces.
LTG Nipat Thonglek, head of the Border Division of the Royal
Thai Armed Forces (RTARF), assured us that Thai and Cambodian
border commanders continued their constant dialogue, and that
there was no increased tension in military postures or need
for additional Thai deployments, a sentiment echoed by
numerous other military contacts.

12. (C) Many Thai commentators, speculating on the whirl of
activity initiated by Puea Thai Chair Chavalit in recent
weeks, have suggested that the aim of the Cambodia gambit of
Hun Sen and Thaksin was to put sufficient pressure on
Abhisit's coalition government to force it to step down and
call new elections, which Puea Thai was confident it would
win; this is certainly what Democrat party insiders suggest
to us was the dynamic in play.

13. (SBU) If that is indeed the case, the gambit seems to
have backfired. Public reaction to the latest back and forth
November 4-5, with the exception of core Thaksin supporters,
has been uniformly critical of Hun Sen, Thaksin, and
Chavalit, with support for Abhisit's government soaring
overnight. Many commentators and figures who have been
increasingly critical of the Abhisit government's inability
to lead the country forward on a coherent agenda have closed
ranks in recent days in support of the government on the Hun
Sen-Thaksin issue, with frequent mentions of past examples of
Hun Sen's alleged thuggery, from the January 2003 comments
which led to the torching of the Thai embassy and Thai
businesses, to the late 1990s ""self-coup"" that allowed Hun
Sen to press his advantage against domestic rival Prince
Ranariddh.

14. (U) Note: DAS Marciel did not have the opportunity to
review this cable.

JOHN

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