Cambodia stirring the pot by hiring Thaksin

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 November, 2009, 12:00am

In a perfect world, neighbouring countries would respect one another's difficulties and challenges. They would trade goods and ideas, share natural resources and maintain healthy diplomatic links. On sensitive issues, politics foremost among them, they would keep an understanding distance. The Mekong River region is unfortunately far from being such a Utopia, which is why Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has unhelpfully taken on ousted former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser.

The nations have a history of rivalry. Soldiers face one another across a disputed border amid a push by Thais to reclaim an 11th-century temple the United Nations has awarded to Cambodia. The stand-off coincides with political turmoil in Thailand that began with the twice democratically elected Thaksin's ousting in a coup three years ago. He was later found guilty in absentia of corruption by judges appointed by the military that had ousted him. And there has been the questionable removal of two governments he backed. Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej's poor health has caused further uncertainty. Thaksin was not a model leader; he infringed on media freedoms and took an authoritarian stand towards crime and human rights. But his treatment by political opponents does not satisfy standards of international justice. Thai authorities consider him a fugitive, although he was not convicted in an open court of crimes that were clearly laid out, nor was he given the opportunity for a fair defence. In the circumstances, Thaksin and the governments of the countries to which he goes have reason to reject Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's demands for his return.

Thailand's young democracy deserves better. How the situation can be amicably resolved remains guesswork. It is a matter for Thais, though - and not for other governments to play politics with. Hun Sen's appointment of Thaksin is needlessly provocative. The region needs a stable Thailand to grow and prosper. That cannot happen if neighbouring governments deliberately stir discontent. Thaksin must be mindful of this in his new role.