Monday, December 28, 2009

Cambodia's Hun Sen's vanity is a danger to regional solidarity

As the Thai-Cambodian dispute continues, Asean may have to step in to mediate

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen should know Thailand as well as anybody, having experienced and dealt with more than a dozen Thai prime ministers. He said shamelessly the other day that the Abhisit government was planning a coup to topple him. Also, that Thailand wanted to wage war on Cambodia. He cited an alleged confidential briefing paper from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claiming there was a Thai strategic plan against his country to unseat him. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quick to deny that there is any such plan.

Hun Sen should know for a fact that the person who is really capable of toppling him is his recently appointed economic adviser -Thaksin Shinawatra. In the early 1990s, everybody knew that Thaksin, as a business tycoon, was involved in a short-lived plot to dislodge Hun Sen because of a conflict of interest over mobile telephone contracts.

At the moment, both Hun Sen and Thaksin are wedded in a marriage of convenience because they can use each other. They also have a common enemy - Abhisit. But the Thaksin-Hun Sen relationship will not last. Sooner or later, it will unravel for all to see.

Abhisit is right in saying that the Cambodians will find out the truth behind a series of idiotic political conspiracies. Only a halfwit would believe the comments concocted by Pheu Thai MP Jatuporn Promphan.

When that time comes, Hun Sen will have a lot of explaining to do to his people. Obviously, at the moment, this is not possible because the media in Cambodia have been gagged by the government. Hun Sen may be riding on Thailand's back to boost his popularity, but the problem with this kind of person is that the truth will catch up to them. As Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

Despite the ongoing political conflict, people-to-people contacts between the two countries continue without any disruption. Thai tourists have returned to Cambodia for the festive season after many tour cancellations. This is good news, as it suggests that the spitting contest between these dull politicians has a limited bearing on the people of the two kingdoms; people who have more in common than they do differences. As neighbours, the people-to-people aspect of our bilateral ties is very important. It should not be determined and shaped exclusively by our respective governments.

At the moment, any positive movement in Thai-Cambodian relations will have to wait because neither side is willing to climb down. On the Cambodian side, the stakes get higher every day, as Hun Sen has bet on Thaksin's political ascension and his promise to reward Hun Sen if he returns triumphantly to Thailand. On the Thai side, Abhisit remains firm in his position on diplomatic protocol and practice. He is likely to stay on, albeit with the threat of disturbances by the Thaksin-backed red shirts.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has been briefed by the conflicting parties since mid-November, continues to monitor the current tension between the two countries He has yet to make any move to mediate in the conflict. The dispute and Hun Sen's personal involvement are an important issue that Asean, under the new chair, Vietnam, will have to discuss.

Hun Sen's growing power, as well as his arrogance, has jeopardised the regional grouping's solidarity. If Asean is really a rules-based organisation, since the Asean Charter came into force, then Hun Sen should be the first Asean leader to be reprimanded because he has thus far broken all the rules of good neighbourliness and Asean customs. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

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