Saturday, January 10, 2009
Bangkok Post and AFP
Phnom Penh - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen may not attend a regional summit in neighbouring Thailand next month, his spokesman said Friday, after it was rescheduled following months of protests in Bangkok.
Thailand said it would go ahead without him. Asean Affairs Department director-general Vitavas Srivihok said Cambodia's absence would not affect the summit.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said it would be costly and difficult for Hun Sen to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting, recently moved from Bangkok to Hua Hin.
The summit was originally set to be held in Bangkok in December but was moved first to northern Chiang Mai, then delayed and moved again to the coast in late February as political turmoil engulfed Thailand.
Hun Sen believes meetings with key regional partners China, Japan and South Korea, which have been pushed back to take place separately in April, are the most important element of talks, the spokesman said.
"If it's only the 10 Asean countries meeting, it would be difficult for Hun Sen to go," he said.
"He says that Thailand should reconsider and wait until the end of the year (to host the summit)."
But Hun Sen has been a prickly critic of Thailand and its term as chairman as Asean, suggesting several times last year it would be better if Thailand gave up the chair because of its internal problems. The true sticking point, however, has been the disputes over Preah Vihear temple and border demarcation.
Hun Sen backed a suggestion from Singapore that the bloc consider staging the summit at the Asean secretariat in Jakarta, the spokesman said.
He said talks with China, Japan and South Korea were most critical because they are expected to give $80 billion in regional aid to reduce short-term liquidity problems, in line with the so-called Chiang Mai initiatives agreed in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Thailand currently holds the rotating chairmanship of Asean, which groups it with Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.