Sunday, November 8, 2009

PM jets off to Tokyo summit

PRIME Minister Hun Sen departed Thursday for the inaugural Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo, where he will urge the Japanese government to finance a new bridge project and solicit investment from Japanese firms, officials said.

The premier is to hold bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart Yukio Hatoyama on Saturday, seeking to secure funds for a second Mekong bridge project that would link Cambodia to the planned ASEAN highway and the Greater Mekong Subregion.

“The bridge will connect countries in the region and link up with National Road 1,” Sri Thamrong, an adviser to Hun Sen, told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport.

The Japanese government has agreed in principle to fund the construction of the US$70 million Neak Loeung Bridge, which would span the Mekong 60 kilometres east of Phnom Penh.

Japan has already funded the stretch of National Road 1 linking Phnom Penh with Neak Loeung.

Sri Thamrong said Japan is one of Cambodia’s biggest foreign aid donors, but that Japanese investment was still low.

“Hun Sen will also meet with Japanese investors in order to attract them to invest in Cambodia,” he said.

Cambodia tit-for-tat over Thaksin

Cambodia has responded to Thailand's recall of its ambassador from Phnom Penh, by recalling its ambassador from Thailand hours later.

Thailand's recall was in anger over Cambodia's offer of an advisory post and a home in Cambodia to former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Thaksin was sentenced in absentia in a Thai court for conflict of interest.

The neighbouring countries have recently been in dispute over ownership of a temple near their border.

When Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen first announced his welcome to the self-exiled fugitive Thaksin, Thailand's current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva was about to host a regional summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations - of which both Cambodia and Thailand are members.

Neighbours

Thai government figures told reporters Cambodia would have to choose between friendship with Mr Thaksin and friendship with Thailand.

This week's announcement by Phnom Penh of a job as economic advisor for Mr Thaksin ramped up the bad feelings across the border.

A few hours after Thailand withdrew its ambassador from Cambodia as a "first diplomatic retaliation", as Mr Abhisit put it, Cambodia responded.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said Cambodia was withdrawing its envoy from Bangkok as a "temporary measure" until Thailand sent its envoy back to Phnom Penh.

Thailand has said it is reviewing aid projects but keeping the border checkpoints open, while Cambodia says its recall would not affect trade or raise tensions along the border.

Soldiers from both countries have engaged in sporadic fighting along their shared northern border where ownership of the Preah Vihear temple is claimed by both countries.

The twice-elected Thaksin remains a hugely influential figure in Thailand, and the current Thai government has said it would try to extradite him from Cambodia if he set up residence there - a request Cambodia has said it would reject.

Thailand's Mr Abhisit defended his 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," he told reporters.

Since the 2006 coup which deposed Mr Thaksin, both supporters and opponents of the former telecommunications mogul have repeatedly taken to the streets of Bangkok in large protests, some of which have turned violent.

BBC News | Asia-Pacific | World Edition

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