Cambodia PM scores in football diplomacy with Thailand

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen led his side to a 10-7 victory in a friendly football match Saturday between Thai and Cambodian officials designed to showcase the neighbours' improving relations.

Hun Sen, clad in a red number nine shirt, smiled broadly as he scored his fourth goal in the final minutes to loud cheers from the 50,000-strong crowd at the Olympic Stadium in the capital Phnom Penh.

Hundreds of Thai "Red Shirts", who are loyal to Thailand's ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, travelled to Cambodia to cheer on the teams, made up of a mix of Thai Red politicians and Cambodian government figures.

They contributed to the party atmosphere by chanting "I love Thaksin" and "I love Hun Sen".

In a pre-match speech, the Cambodian premier said that "the nightmare" era between the nations, who engaged in deadly border clashes earlier this year, was over.

"Today is a historic event in the relations between Cambodia and Thailand," he said.

The cordial game came just a week after new Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra made her first official trip to Phnom Penh, quickly followed by a visit from her brother Thaksin, described by Hun Sen as an "eternal friend".

Ties between the two nations have warmed significantly since Yingluck's July election win, backed by her sibling.

Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, remains a controversial figure in Thailand but is considered a hero by the mainly working-class Reds.

Under previous Thai leader Abhisit Vejjajiva the border row, which centres around an ancient temple, twice escalated into heavy fighting this year, prompting Phnom Penh to take the dispute to the United Nation's highest court.

The Hague-based International Court of Justice in July asked both nations to withdraw military personnel from around the Preah Vihear temple complex.

Hun Sen and Yingluck agreed last week that they would redeploy troops away from the area.