Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Siem Reap to see red

Authorities in Siem Reap are preparing for a swarm of 40,000 “red shirt” supporters of ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who are expected to descend on the tourist town during the New Year holiday just over a week from now. 


The horde of crimson politicos are journeying to the Kingdom for a rare chance to see their beloved former leader, who fled Thailand  –  where his sister Yingluck is now prime minister  –  in 2008 after being convicted of corruption. 

Siem Reap provincial hall official Ly Samreth said about 15 hectares of land at Angkor Kjong Yu, near the Apsara Authority building in Slo Kram commune’s Banteay Chas village, had been set aside to accommodate the 40,000 visitors.  

“We have started to grade the land, and authorities are trying to collect the garbage and find unexploded ordnance in that area as well,” he said. 

“We estimate 40,000 of Thailand’s red shirts will be here to celebrate their New Year with their former Prime Minister.” 

Thailand, Cambodia and Laos all celebrate their New Year after the dry- season rice harvests are finished in early April, just before about six months of monsoon rains hit mainland Southeast Asia.   

Jarupan Kuldiloke, a spokeswoman for Thaksin’s Puea Thai party, said the former leader, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006, would arrive some time between April 10 and 15 to celebrate “Songkran”, the Thai moniker for their New Year water festival. 

“Yeah, he will go to Laos and Cambodia, and he said if his friends would like to come and see him, please come to Laos and Cambodia,” she said, adding that the group were also here to celebrate the shared holiday period with their neighbours.   

Questionable aspects of Thaksin’s two-year corruption sentence – which was related to land purchased by his wife while he was prime minister – still must be resolved in Thailand before he can consider any return. 

“He [will] prepare to go home when his Thai people are calling him back. That’s still the argument on his case, because it’s very special and not normal,” Jarupan Kuldiloke said. 

Thaksin, a close friend of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has repeatedly journeyed here since the premier appointed him an economic adviser in October, 2009 – a position that was later cancelled amid deteriorating bilateral relations between Cambodia and Thailand. 

Thailand elected his sister Yingluck prime minister in June, heralding a rosy new epoch of Cambodian-Thai diplomacy following Hun Sen’s sour relationship with her predecessor, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.  

Those relations hit rock bottom when bloody clashes broke out between Cambodia and Thailand over disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple in February and April last year. 

Porleng Van, president of the Cambodian Restaurant Association, said the timing of the red shirts’ arrival was ideal for both the restaurant and hotel industries, regardless of any political aspects. 

“When it is low season, the frequency [of visitors] is dropping more than 50 per cent, 60 per cent. Therefore, if you have many clients coming at that time, it is just perfect,” she said. 

“On the other hand, with so many people coming at the same time, the quality of the service is really hard to match,” she said, adding that authorities would have to be careful managing security and traffic.