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Thai-Cambodian relations

Hun Sen plays junta's card by freeing Veera

Cambodia shows it is well disposed towards the new regime in message it seeks closer relations

The release of nationalist activist Veera Somkwamkid from a Cambodian prison marks a serious attempt by Phnom Penh to open a new chapter in bilateral relations.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen told Thai Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow that the release was mainly for humanitarian reasons to mark the first anniversary of the royal cremation of King Norodom Sihanouk.

Veera's release is a very strong message on the relations Cambodia seeks to have with the new leadership in Bangkok.

The Veera case had become symbolic of the love-hate relations between the two neighbours, which was mainly driven by the domestic political dispute in Thailand.

Yellow-shirt nationalist Veera was arrested on December 29, 2010 when he, together with six others including Panich Vikitsreth then an MP of the ruling Democrat Party, entered a border area near Sa Kaew province's Ban Nongchan to claim Thailand's sovereignty over the territory.

The Phnom Penh court convicted

him on trespassing and espionage charges and handed down a tough eight-year jail sentence.

The development overlapped

the tensions over the disputed Hindu

temple of Preah Vihear when bilateral

relations were at their lowest level

then.

Veera, the Democrat Party and the yellow shirts attacked Hun Sen on the grounds that the Cambodian leader had good personal relations with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 after prolonged protests by the yellow shirts.

Phnom Penh seemed to have a clear agenda: To take on the Bangkok elite and the Democrat-led government for claiming rights over Preah Vihear. Years of diplomatic fighting, military skirmish and eventually a legal battle at the International Court of Justice, even as Veera languished in the Prey Sar prison, resulted in Cambodia's victory.

After the ICJ judgement in November last year favoured Cambodia, giving the whole promontory of the Preah Vihear to be under Cambodian sovereignty, holding Veera served no purpose for Phnom Penh. The Preah Vihear is no longer a hot issue in bilateral relations.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said on Tuesday that as long as Thailand was not ready, Cambodia could wait for the implementation of the world court's ruling.

As the leadership in Bangkok changed after the May 22 coup, it was obvious that the personal relations between Hun Sen and Thaksin would become a negative factor for bilateral relations.

Hun Sen made it clear during his meeting with Sihasak that he would not allow any of the parties to use Cambodia to fight the junta.

Cambodia said it had confidence in Thailand's new leadership, supporting the Thai way of political development and continuing ties for mutual benefit of the two countries.

Jobs in Thailand for Cambodian migrant workers are as important as border development plans. Nearly 200,000 Cambodia workers leaving their jobs to return home is not a good thing for both economies.

Cambodia these days has no reason to remain in conflict with Thailand. Veera's freedom is a smart gesture from Hun Sen to establish a strong friendship with the junta.


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