By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on February 16, 2011
Thailand and Cambodia should not put too much of a spin for local consumption on the result of the United Nations Security Council meeting, because it could spark further conflict instead of reducing the tension.
In a press statement after the Valentine's Day meeting in New York, the UN Security Council's president, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, said: "Members of the Security Council further urged the parties to establish a permanent ceasefire, and implement it fully and resolve the situation peacefully through effective dialogue."
The UNSC held a meeting on Monday to listen to both sides on the situation at the border area adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple.
Cambodia urged the UN to help ensure a "permanent ceasefire" at the disputed area by sending UN peacekeeping forces to create a buffer zone around the 900-year-old sandstone temple.
Thailand, on the other hand, insisted that a third party should not be involved in the conflict and that the two countries should settle it bilaterally.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rushed to say the UN statement was exactly what Thailand wanted, and tried to corner Cambodia into accepting the proposal to hold a meeting of joint boundary committee early next month.
As a UN member, Cambodia has no choice but to participate in an existing bilateral mechanism to end the conflict, Abhisit said.
Indeed, the UN appears to have made a compromise in its statement, saying it supported the idea of establishing a "permanent ceasefire" - something Phnom Penh wants - but it still urged the two parties to resolve the problem through "effective dialogue". The only word missing is "bilateral" - as proposed by Thailand - but Bangkok has the liberty to interpret the term "effective dialogue" as something that can be done via bilateral mechanisms.
Further on in the statement, the UNSC makes it clear that an effective dialogue can be conducted at a regional (read Asean) forum.
"Members of the Security Council have expressed support for Asean's active efforts in this matter and encouraged the parties to continue to cooperate with the organisation in this regard. They welcomed the upcoming Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Asean on February 22," the statement said.
In fact, it was widely known that Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa had contacted Viotti to brief her about the situation and proposed the practical option of Asean becoming a mediator. Indonesia, as chair of Asean, scheduled an informal meeting in Jakarta on February 22 ahead of the UN meeting and foreign ministers of both conflicting countries agreed to attend.
However, with Asean involved, the issue would not be going down the bilateral channel. Natalegawa was very diplomatic when he said the February 22 meeting would be an informal one - a move to avoid the formality of a "direct mediation".
This informality has made Bangkok comfortable, while Phnom Penh can say an international forum is handling the issue. International politics in the 21st century is nothing like a zero-sum game. The global body is keen that the concerned parties do not completely lose out in the deal. Politicians of both sides should also learn to take this approach.
Cambodia could easily get angry with Abhisit and continue resisting his proposal to resolve the conflict face to face. The best spin the two countries can give this issue is that of being good neighbours and working closely to maintain permanent peace.