Thursday, 27 January 2011

Loose cannons damage ties with Cambodia

via CAAI

Thu, Jan 27, 2011
The Nation/Asia News Network

NATIONALIST elements within the yellow-shirt movement do the country no favours by exacerbating border disputes with neighbour Cambodia

Whatever their real intentions were, we will probably never know. But five of the seven Thai nationals, including a Democrat MP, who were arrested for trespassing last month in Banteay Meanchey province of Cambodia should consider themselves lucky for having been freed on suspended sentences.

It is hoped that this decision will take this high-profile case - which has strained already shaky diplomatic ties - one step closer to a conclusion.

After all, there are more important things that Thailand and Cambodia should be focusing on instead of the plight of seven nationalists who had no business crossing illegally into a neighbouring country.

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth was released last Friday (January 21) along with fellow defendants Saemdin Lertbutr, Tainae Mungmajon, Naruemol Chitwaratana and Kitchaponthorn Chusanasevi.

They were arrested in Banteay Meanchey while supposedly investigating the contentious border demarcation process between Thailand and Cambodia. A Cambodian court sentenced the five to nine months in prison, suspending eight months of the sentence after the group spent several weeks in pre-trial detention. They were also fined 1 million riel (S$315).

Two other members of the group, yellow-shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary, Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, have also been charged with espionage. They are facing a maximum of 10 years in prison. They are set to stand trial in Cambodia on February 1.

While the charge of espionage contains a heavy dose of political posturing, politically speaking these two accused, as well as the five freed Thais, should not be billed here as national heroes.

Just when things appeared to be on the upswing diplomatically between Thailand and Cambodia, these seven have succeeded only in taking bilateral ties down a notch. Restoring the patched-up relationship to where it was will take some time, and the government in Bangkok was sensible in labelling this as an immigration issue, nothing more.

If anything, the government needs to speed up the boundary demarcation process via negotiations with the Joint Boundary Committee (JBC), which is headed by retired ambassador Asda Jayanama. The idea is to make the borderline clearer. For the time being, the JBC is waiting for an approval from the Thai parliament on the agreed minutes of three previous meetings to enable the body to go ahead with further talks.

Sad to say, the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva is afraid of moving this forward because of the opposition from yellow-shirt nationalists such as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the Thai Patriots Network, whose key member Veera Somkwamkid is now detained in a Cambodian jail.

Parliament has been reading the documents since November and there is no sign of an end to its deliberations so that the border negotiations can proceed. Parliament is controlled by the majority of government MPs and it should let the border talks continue without further delay. All MPs also need to be reminded that they were elected to serve the people and the country, not to please the PAD.

Technicalities aside, the seven Thais who crossed illegally into Cambodia should not be permitted to get away with what they did. Seemingly they went there to provoke conflict between the two nations for their own political agenda.

If they want to make a name for themselves, how about doing something good for the general public. Better yet, look for constructive ways to promote bilateral ties between the two nations.

Frankly, this group of seven has nothing to do with the border area in any official capacity. Apparently they went there to challenge the Cambodian government, while at the same time hoping to put Abhisit under tremendous pressure at a time when he needs it least.

The PAD will call rallies during which they plan to attack Abhisit and foreign minister Kasit Piromya for their "failure" to get tough with Cambodia over the border issue. What the PAD should be doing is restraining their people and not letting them run wild and creating problems that could do great harm to bilateral ties between Thailand and Cambodia.

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