BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand and Cambodia recalled their ambassadors from each others’ countries on Thursday, deepening a diplomatic row after Cambodia made fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra an economic adviser.
The tit-for-tat spat threatens to worsen a political crisis in Thailand by giving Thaksin and his red-shirted anti-government supporters an ally just across the border, causing a diplomatic embarrassment for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
It also suggests deepening enmity between leaders of the two countries after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen soured the start of an Asian summit hosted by Abhisit last month by turning up and offering Thaksin the job of adviser.
“We will recall our ambassador in Cambodia to express our dissatisfaction,” Chavanont Intarakomalsut, a secretary to the Thai foreign minister, told reporters.
“We will also review all of the agreements between the two countries along with any other cooperation with them.”
Hours later, Cambodia followed suit, describing its move as temporary and saying that its envoy would return when Thailand’s ambassador was sent back to Phnom Penh.
It called on Thailand to be “open minded” and said it was not surprised by Bangkok’s decision to withdraw its envoy.
Hun Sen’s offer last month to give Thaksin a job and a home in Cambodia riled Thaksin’s opponents and heightened tension between the neighbours, whose troops have clashed over a disputed border and a 900-year old temple straddling the frontier.
Some independent analysts said Thailand’s decision to respond to Thaksin’s appointment by recall its ambassador was playing into the hands of the former telecoms tycoon.
“The government should avoid escalating this and should instead be in damage control mode,” said Gothom Arya, director of research at Mahidol University in Bangkok.
“Thaksin is already causing problems for the government. Being so close to home, he will be in closer contact with his people and it could strengthen his political campaign.”
Thaksin lives mainly in exile in Dubai but he is still immensely popular among Thailand’s rural poor and his supporters have staged frequent street rallies, calling for his pardon and return.
The Cambodian government said late on Wednesday that Thaksin had been made a personal adviser to Hun Sen and an economic adviser, effective Oct. 27.
It said it would reject any request to extradite the billionaire on the grounds that his removal in a 2006 coup and subsequent graft conviction were politically motivated.
“(Cambodia) will not, under any circumstances, extradite Excellency Thaksin upon any eventual request made by Thailand,” the statement said.
Abhisit stood by the decision to recall the ambassador and said the Cambodian government had “intervened in Thai justice” and hurt the feelings of the Thai people.
“I believe Thailand and Cambodia still want to be good neighbours, but once these problems happen, we need to respond,” Abhisit told reporters.
The Thai Foreign Ministry accused Cambodia of meddling in its internal affairs by helping a “criminal fugitive” to “play a political role”.
“This is an intervention in Thailand’s business and a rejection of Thai justice, putting a personal relationship and an individual’s benefit above the relationship between the two countries,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The Thai government, therefore, will not stand still.”
Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak, Martin Petty and Ek Madra in Phnom Penh; Editing by Martin Petty and Alex Richardson