Feb 8, 2011
Bangkok/Phnom Penh - A border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, which has claimed seven lives over four days of clashes, needs to be settled bilaterally, Indonesia's foreign minister said Tuesday.
Marty Natalegawa, who visited Phnom Penh and Bangkok in his country's capacity as chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, acknowledged that the grouping could only play a supportive role in the current spat between the two ASEAN member states.
'In the final analysis the issue between Thailand and Cambodia must be addressed and can only be addressed bilaterally, because this is a border issue that needs to be negotiated,' Natalegawa said after talks with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya.
'But at the same time there is always space for ASEAN to support the bilateral efforts,' Natalegawa said.
Thai-Cambodian relations have been volatile since July 2008, when UNESCO's World Heritage Committee added Preah Vihear temple to its list of cultural sites, despite Thai objections.
The 11th-century Hindu temple, perched on a cliff in the Dangrek mountain range that vaguely defines the border, has been a bone of contention for the past five decades.
In 1962 the International Court of Justice decided the temple belonged to Cambodia, but failed to rule on a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land nearby that both countries claim.
UNESCO's decision revived the territorial dispute and led to several border confrontations.
Although the two governments had reportedly made progress recently in resolving the issue diplomatically, shooting between forces based in the disputed area broke out Friday and continued until Monday.
Each side has blamed the other for instigating the violence.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen over the weekend called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene, but Thailand insists on a bilateral solution.
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said Phnom Penh felt international pressure would help to defuse the situation.
'Cambodia wants peace, nothing else, so let negotiations solve this dispute,' he said.
'Right now, it is the battlefield of the diplomats who are negotiating,' Phay Siphan said of Natalegawa's diplomatic mission.
ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam has traditionally followed a policy of non-intervention in its members' internal political problems, but bilateral problems are drawing increasing involvement.
'Any engagement by ASEAN, and any engagement by individual countries, is not to replace the bilateral approach, but on the contrary to support the bilateral approach,' Natalegawa said in Bangkok.
At Preah Vihear temple, Cambodian soldier Nob Sinath said Tuesday the situation had been calm but tense for the last 24 hours.
'We can't feel confident yet, because fighting could break out at any time,' he said. 'The Thai side are constantly watching us, and if we aren't careful they will take action so we must be prepared.'
Damage was visible at the site, with hundreds of stones showing evidence of what heritage police said were shrapnel and bullets.
A column at one building had been hit and was broken, while the wing of another building had collapsed.
Cambodian soldiers pointed out a hole in a temple wall, which they said was caused by a 105-millimetre rocket.
Cambodia has blamed the Thai military for shelling the temple, and has requested that UNESCO send a team to assess the damage. UNESCO's country office in Phnom Penh did not respond to enquiries.