Saturday, 7 November 2009

Boundary deal faces axe

PM intensifies protest against Cambodia

Published: 7/11/2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thailand may suspend a land boundary demarcation settlement in a further diplomatic strike against Cambodia.

Financial aid worth 1.4 billion baht for Cambodia's Route 48 is also under review.

Thailand yesterday revoked a memorandum of understanding on developing an overlapping border area which is rich in oil and gas in the Gulf of Thailand. The agreement between the two countries was reached in June 2001.

It was the latest protest against Cambodia's decision to appoint convicted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as its economic adviser.

In a video link from Japan last night, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva hinted that his government might suspend negotiations under the Thai-Cambodia Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC).

Parliament is scheduled to consider endorsing the JBC framework on Monday. However, Mr Abhisit yesterday said: "It's not a priority at present."

The agreement on the disputed maritime boundary was reached under the Thaksin administration. The Democrat-led government believes Cambodia could gain an advantage in negotiations if Thaksin is advising it.

"Thaksin was directly involved in pushing for the government to sign the MoU, so the Thai government could not continue negotiating with Cambodia based on this MoU," said Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya.

The unilateral termination of the MoU will take effect three months after Bangkok informs Phnom Penh.

Mr Kasit said the potential oil and natural gas reserves in the 26,000 square kilometre overlapping area could benefit both countries and negotiations would directly affect economic benefits and national security.

Mr Abhisit said the decision was aimed at protecting Thailand's interests and defending its judicial system.

The government did not trigger the dispute and it was up to Phnom Penh to consider what steps should be taken to ease tensions.

He had told the Foreign Ministry to prepare mechanisms for a downgrade of diplomatic ties with Cambodia.

"I think the government and Thai people are exercising patience and restraint," Mr Abhisit said.

"The issue must be dealt with at the bilateral level. But the problem was not created by us. It is up to Cambodia to consider how to proceed with it."

He was speaking after a reception lunch for leaders of the Mekong Subregion hosted by the Japanese chamber of commerce and industry and the confederation of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo.

Mr Abhisit and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen are among the Mekong Subregion leaders taking part in the summit with Japan, which ends today.

A Foreign Ministry source said Thaksin's decision to advise Cambodia has caused a fundamental change in circumstances which could justify Thailand revoking the MoU in question under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

But Cambodia said that, under the MoU, neither country could renege on its pledges to develop the area.

"I don't see any articles or any sentences that allow either party to terminate the memorandum of understanding," Var Kimhong, the Cambodian government's top border negotiator, told AFP. "Both sides have to implement it until we find a solution to the overlapping claims area," he said.

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the foreign minister, added the ministry would also review other agreements signed with Cambodia during the Thaksin administration.

It includes a Thai financial package to Cambodia for construction of the 153km Route 48 worth 1.4 billion baht linking Trat province with Koh Kong's Serei Ample district.

Meanwhile, Thaksin yesterday criticised the Democrat-led government's decision to downgrade diplomatic ties with Cambodia.

The fugitive former prime minister said the government's decision could worsen the relations between the two countries and cause economic damage between the neighbours. Advising the country was an act of good neighbourliness which could also help Thailand.

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