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Thailand can't afford to have a PAD-linked FM

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva could select anybody to be his new foreign minister - except from among the troublemakers who actively helped create crisis for their benefit and at the expense of Thailand's foreign relations.

A new foreign minister will have three urgent missions to achieve once he takes office. The first is to carry on with the Asean chairmanship. Hosting the 14th Asean Summit is a vital task needed to restore the country's leadership in the regional grouping.

His second mission is to restore confidence in tourism and transport sectors, heavily damaged by the week-long closure of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

The third mission is to restore normal relations with neighbouring Cambodia, damaged by ultra-nationalist tactics by a group of street protesters, perhaps with strong support from the then-opposition Democrat Party in its political fight with previous governments.

To be more specific, no key members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - even those with experience as former diplomats - should take a job at the Foreign Ministry, since they would not be able to explain rationally to the international community the root causes of the political crisis. Of course, they could blame ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for everything, but no international audience would subscribe to such an explanation.

The Asean Summit, originally due about now, would not have been postponed if the PAD had not occupied both of Bangkok's airports late last month. It would be ridiculous to hear a new foreign minister explaining to Asean colleagues: "I apologise, your excellencies, for the delay in the summit since my group, the PAD, found it necessary to close Thailand's main airports to justify dissolution of the previous government and bring me to this position."

A similar explanation should be avoided when trying to restore foreign confidence in tourism and transport. It is bitter to imagine a PAD member as foreign minister launching roadshows abroad to guarantee visitors that PAD protesters would not close any airports again as long as they remained in power. Unfortunately, a PAD foreign minister would be unable to guarantee return flights for tourists if PAD rival the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) also hijacked visitors for political reasons. Forget law enforcement maintaining peace and order in this country. Since the PAD was not punished for seizing the airport, the DAAD can claim it deserves similar treatment.

A new foreign minister with PAD connections would find restoring good relations with Cambodia a problem, due to the narrow approach of nationalism. Thai and Cambodian relations would have no difficulties - unless the PAD raised unnecessary questions about Cambodia's application to list Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage site.

The logic that support for Cambodia means a loss of Thai sovereignty is so absurd. With or without support from Thailand, Preah Vihear will never lose its status and value worthy of World Heritage listing. With or without this inscription, the 11th-century Khmer sanctuary, as well as the piece of land on which it sits, would never become Thailand's property.

The PAD's protest on site, nevertheless, led to border tension and military clashes resulting in sour relations and delayed cooperation between the two countries. Preah Vihear has been closed to tourists for months, losing much visitor revenue for no reason other than the PAD's political ambition to get rid of former minister Noppadon Pattama, with his strong links to enemy Thaksin.

No member of the PAD could fix such problems, since Cambodians know very well the root cause and who the troublemakers are. The new foreign minister should not be a person hated by neighbouring countries; otherwise, that individual could be the source of enmity between the two countries.

The military-sponsored Constitution and political traps laid by the former opposition to block the previous governments could boomerang and make foreign relations difficult. It would be interesting to know whether the new minister would instruct the words "Preah Vihear" or "Phra Viharn" to be recorded in the agreed minutes after a ministerial meeting with his Cambodian counterpart.


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