PHNOM PENH — Cambodia said Wednesday it had appointed fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra economic adviser to premier Hun Sen in a move that adds to tensions between the countries.
The appointment was announced on state television almost two weeks after Hun Sen first riled Thailand by offering safe haven to Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is living abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption.
"Thaksin has already been appointed by royal decree... as personal adviser to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the adviser to the Cambodian government in charge of economy," said a government statement read on television.
"Allowing Thaksin to stay in Cambodia is virtuous behaviour...good friends need to help each other in difficult circumstances," it added.
The statement went on to call charges against Thaksin "politically motivated" and vowed not to extradite him if he "decides to stay in Cambodia or travels in and out of Cambodia in order to fulfill his duties".
Ties between Cambodia and Thailand have been difficult since June 2008 amid an ongoing border conflict over land surrounding an 11th century temple, which has claimed several lives.
Hun Sen stoked up tensions with Thailand in late October when he first offered Thaksin refuge in Cambodia and then marred a summit of Asian leaders by saying he had offered him the job as economic adviser.
Thailand said that the appointment was an internal matter for Hun Sen's government but it would push for the extradition of billionaire Thaksin if he sets foot in Cambodia.
"It's a Cambodian matter," Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban told AFP. "We don't have to analyse anything, the appointment is a private relationship between Cambodia and Thaksin. It hasn't had any impact on us."
"It's not a surprise. Cambodia has previously hired other foreigners as advisers and it did not cause us any problems. We don't have to worry too much," added Suthep, who is in charge of national security.
"But if Thaksin happens to be in Cambodia then we have to ask for his extradition."
Thaksin remains an influential figure on Thailand's turbulent political scene, stirring up mass protests from abroad against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The Thai government announced last month that it would strip Thaksin of his royal awards and his official rank from his time in the police force.
Twice-elected Thaksin fled Thailand last year before he was sentenced to two years in jail in a corruption case. His allies were driven from government in December after anti-Thaksin protesters occupied Bangkok's airports.
Abhisit has said Thaksin, who has several passports and divides his time between a number of countries, must return to Thailand to face justice.