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Cablegate: Cambodia Recalls Ambassador to Thailand But

VZCZCXRO1114
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0831/01 3101057
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 061057Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1346
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI PRIORITY 0007
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 2579
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2409
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 0724
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3312
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI PRIORITY 0001
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HI PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000831

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, IO, DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/06/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KTIA MOPS ELAB CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA RECALLS AMBASSADOR TO THAILAND BUT
EMPHASIZES OPEN DIPLOMATIC CHANNELS, GOOD SECURITY, CALM
BORDER

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 815
B. PHNOM PENH 811
C. BANGKOK 2746

PHNOM PENH 00000831 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION THEODORE ALLEGRA, FOR REASONS 1.
4 (B, D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC)
recalled its Ambassador to Thailand You Ay on November 5,
emphasizing reciprocity in response to Thailand's earlier
removal of the Thai Ambassador to Cambodia -- noting
specifically that Cambodia was willing to restore full
relations as soon as the Thai Ambassador returned to Phnom
Penh. The RGC defended the appointment of former Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic advisor to Prime
Minister Hun Sen (Ref A) and reiterated international legal
arguments refuting Thai claims regarding Thaksin's
extradition. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the
Council of Ministers Sok An said in a televised news
conference that the mutual recalls would have no effect on
Cambodia's overall relations with Thailand, especially the
good bilateral economic ties. Mindful of Phnom Penh's
violent anti-Thai riots in 2003, RGC officials highlighted
normalcy and said they would keep people safe and sound. As
the Independence Holiday weekend approached on November 6,
Border checkpoints remained open, Thai Embassy staff felt
safe, and the situation near Preah Vihear was calm. Thaksin
is reportedly in Dubai and, if he does decide to visit
Cambodia, indications are it will be for a short stay only.
END SUMMARY.

An Ordinary Appointment and a "Strange" Protest
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) DPM Sok An's press conference, carried live by many
national television stations November 5, cited as "strange"
the protest by Thai leaders to the appointment of Thaksin as
PM Hun Sen's economic advisor (Ref A). Recounting that Thai
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban had said that it was
an ordinary matter for the Cambodian PM to choose his
personal advisors, Sok An noted that Hun Sen many years ago
had appointed current Korean President Lee Myung-bak to a
similar role. On the other hand, the recall of ambassadors
would not affect people-to-people relations between
Cambodians and their Thai neighbors, said Sok An. He
emphasized that relations along the border would remain good
and that the diplomatic tiff would not affect strong
bilateral economic relations. No mention of Thaksin's status
as a fugitive from Thai justice came up in the news
conference. A day earlier, on November 4, the RGC had issued
a statement on Thaksin's appointment and the international
legal norms that could justify the denial of an extradition
request based on its underlying "political" nature. Sok An's
aide noted that the DPM's aim in the press conference was to
cool down the situation and ensure public safety.

Mixed Reactions; Concern for Residents' Security
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) Ou Virak of the Cambodian Human Rights Center told
Radio Free Asia that the appointment of Thaksin appeared to
be related to Cambodia's dispute with Thailand over the Preah
Vihear border issue. He speculated that relations would
return to normal in time. Political Scientist and Royal
University of Phnom Penh Professor Ros Chantrabot agreed, and
told us that Hun Sen's bold move was calculated to press the
Abhisit government for a solution to the Preah Vihear issue,
after which the "problem of Thaksin" would go away. Much
Cambodian reaction to the diplomatic spat centered on the
fate of over 60,000 legal Cambodian laborers believed to be
in Thailand (9,371 legalized and 52,635 with work passes) in
addition to tens of thousands more on the parallel economy.
Sam Rainsy set the figure at 200,000 and told the local press
he was concerned for their protection if tensions continued
to escalate. The labor ministry office handling overseas
workers was taking a wait-and-see attitude before issuing
more work documents to those going to Thailand.

Business as Usual at Thai Embassy
---------------------------------

PHNOM PENH 00000831 002.2 OF 002

4. (SBU) Contacts at the Royal Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh
said that the Embassy remained open for business as usual,
with all staff present under the direction of the current
Charg. He said that general communication with the RGC
remains normal, noting for example that he and the Cambodian
MFA,s Thai Desk Officer have been in regular contact since
the recall. He said that the embassy had not been given
guidance on how long Ambassador-designate Prasas
Prasavinitchai would remain in Bangkok, repeating the Thai
MFA,s statement that the RGC would have to choose between
dealing with Thaksin or the Thai government.

5. (C) Thai Embassy officials and our own U.S. Embassy mobile
patrol confirmed an upgraded Cambodian police presence
November 5 in front of the Thai Embassy until approximately
10:00 PM. The Thai Embassy officials also emphasized they
had not requested any special security support from the RGC,
and that the embassy had no major security concerns, although
it had increased some of its internal security procedures as
a precaution. (NOTE: We understand evacuation procedures via
Thai military have been reviewed. END NOTE.) Poloff
confirmed that the Cambodia police had since withdrawn from
the Thai embassy, and that the situation on the street is
calm. The Ambassador polled other mission chiefs the evening
of November 5, who indicated their perception that the RGC
was serious about upholding its Vienna convention obligations
to protect the Thai diplomatic personnel and premises.

Border Calm
-----------

6. (SBU) Council of Ministers Spokesman Phay Siphan said
late on November 6 that the situation in the vicinity of the
Preah Vihear border dispute remained calm and that all
cross-border checkpoints remained open. Embassy Commercial
Assistant independently confirmed with border traders that
checkpoints were open. Separately, LTG Chea Dara, Royal
Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander-in-Chief told the
Khmer-language press that he was in telephone contact with
his Thai counterpart in charge of Thailand's Military Region
2 and that they had agreed that soldiers were not the means
to solve the border dispute, which should be settled by
diplomatic means. However, Chea Dara repeated the commonly
heard phrase that Cambodian military would not allow the Thai
to cross even one millimeter onto Cambodian territory. Srey
Deuk, commander of Preah Vihear forces also noted the
situation remained quiet, although his troops were on alert.
RODLEY

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