By The Nation
Published on January 27, 2011
Cambodia yesterday agreed to remove a second stone tablet from the disputed area next to Preah Vihear temple to help reduce mounting pressure by the nationalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) against the Thai government.
"It's over," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters. "There's no need to negotiate as we told them to remove the plate and they cooperated."
Cambodia had placed the stone at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, next to the Preah Vihear temple claimed by Thailand and Cambodia as their own.
It read: "Here! is the place where Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008, and withdrew at 10.30am on December 1, 2010."
In that incident, the Thai military entered the area to secure the release of three Thai nationalists held by Cambodian officials. The Thais went there to express their anger after learning that Cambodia had had Preah Vihear listed as a World Heritage Site.
The Thai military has contacted its counterpart in Phnom Penh in recent weeks to express its concern that the stone plate could fuel tension between the two countries.
Cambodia agreed to remove the plate on Tuesday. It was replaced with another one that said "Here! is Cambodia." Thailand insisted that the second stone be removed too.
Abhisit is now walking a political tightrope as Thai-Cambodian relations become increasingly fragile and his major allies, the PAD, turn their guns on his government.
The yellow-shirt group is demanding the government take a tough stance in its dealings with Phnom Penh over boundary issues including the dispute over Preah Vihear.
They want Abhisit to scrap a memorandum of understanding signed in 2000 on boundary demarcation and forcibly remove Cambodian communities from disputed areas. They also want the government to quit the World Heritage Committee, the body that listed Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
The Thai Patriots Network, a PAD-related group, dispatched seven Thais to inspect a disputed area near Sa Kaeo province's Ban Nong Chan who were then arrested by the Cambodian authorities on December 29.
Five of them received suspended sentences of nine months and have already returned to Thailand. The remaining two, high profile nationalist Veera Somkwamkid and his assistant Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, remain in Cambodia awaiting trial on additional charges.
Abhisit said he would allow the Cambodian court to try Veera and Ratree on February 1 and would seek ways to help them after the prosecution.
The government has tried to solve the problem while maintaining good relations with Cambodia, he said.
A planned military exercise in border areas near Preah Vihear will not spark conflict with Cambodia as it is a normal procedure for the military, he said.
However, conflict with the PAD is more of a concern for Abhisit as the group threatens to prolong its protest near Government House until the government bows to its demands.
Abhisit said he was ready to talk with the PAD to explain the government's position and find a way to solve the problem, but yellow-shirt leader Chamlong Srimuang said the demands were non-negotiable.
The PAD has also threatened to sue Abhisit and his ministers, accusing them of causing Thailand to lose territory to Cambodia.
Abhisit said he had no problem with the lawsuit as he had confidence in his conduct and had done nothing wrong regarding the boundary.