Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra landed in Cambodia Tuesday to start a job as government economic adviser, escalating an already huge diplomatic row between the two countries.
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (C) walks to a car at the Phnom Penh military air base on November 10, 2009. (AFP Photo)
Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, exited a small private airplane at Phnom Penh International Airport and was then escorted into the capital by a convoy of cars under tight security, said an AFP photographer.
Cambodia announced Thaksin's appointment last week, sparking a dispute that has led Thailand and Cambodia to recall their respective ambassadors and has deepened tensions after a series of deadly border clashes in the past year.
Thailand has also said it could seal the frontier if Thaksin is not extradited, but Cambodian ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Kuoy Kong said his country was "not concerned about these issues".
"We will not extradite him (Thaksin). We already clarified this case because he is a political victim," Kuoy Kong told AFP Tuesday.
Billionaire telecoms mogul Thaksin is living in foreign locations including Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power handed down by a Thai court in absentia in September 2008.
He justified his trip to Cambodia -- whose prime minister Hun Sen is a close friend and political ally -- in an open letter published on his website late Monday.
"As I travel to Cambodia to discuss poverty and the world economic situation, I will try to preserve Thai interests with our friends in Phnom Penh, despite the Thai government still hounding me wherever I go," he wrote.
"I will not go to Cambodia to help Cambodia fight with Thailand but to exchange views and experiences on poverty-solving as well as new regional economics."
Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City football club, is due to give a a speech to hundreds of Cambodian economics experts in the capital on Thursday. He has not said how long he will be in Phnom Penh.
The Thai government said it had not been officially informed of Thaksin's arrival in Cambodia. "We want to verify the report first," Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Thailand's foreign affairs minister, told AFP.
Thaksin won two elections and remains a massively influential figure in Thai politics, stirring up mass protests by so-called "Red Shirt" supporters against the current government.
His presence on Thailand's doorstep is the closest he has come since he last fled the country in August 2008, a move that is likely to alarm the shaky 11-month-old coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Thaksin's visit also threatens to take the shine off a summit of Southeast Asian leaders with US President Barack Obama that Abhisit is due to chair on Sunday in Singapore.
Thailand remains bitterly divided between Thaksin's main support base among the poor, especially in rural areas, and his foes in the Bangkok-based elite power circles of the palace, military and bureaucracy.