Thursday, 17 February 2011

Cambodia seeks Asean help

 via CAAI

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

The Nation
Published on February 17, 2011

P Penh wants association to dispatch monitors but Thailand rejects call as border clash drags on

Cambodia will request that Asean send observers to monitor and ensure a permanent ceasefire in the disputed border areas adjacent to the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, as border skirmishes with Thailand showed no signs of ending.

"I will ask for Asean observers in the area to control and ensure a permanent ceasefire," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday upon his arrival from New York after the meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the Cambodian-Thai border conflict.

"We will wait and see if Thailand accepts this suggestion or not, we will know the real ambition of Thailand," he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Thailand immediately rejected Cambodia's idea, saying it was unnecessary as the border conflict between the two neighbouring countries was not so complicated.

Asean has called a meeting of its foreign ministers next Tuesday in Jakarta to discuss the border dispute between the regional grouping's two members.

The Security Council in its meeting on Monday urged the parties to establish a "permanent ceasefire" and fully implement it through effective negotiations. The UN body supported Asean's role in seeking a solution to end the conflict and urged Thailand and Cambodia to cooperate with the organisation in this regard.

It is not clear yet how the current chairman of Asean, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, will conduct the meeting next week.

Thailand expects the meeting will be an informal one to exchange views and information on the situation, said the foreign minister's secretary, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut.

"We have a very firm stance about solving this issue through bilateral mechanism and don't want to make the matter more complicated," he said.

"What the two countries need to do is just simply stop firing and sit face-to-face to solve the problem."

Thailand will not propose anything at the Jakarta meeting but merely present facts, listen to the views of members and create an atmosphere for reconciliation to pave the way for bilateral talks, Chavanond said.

However, Cambodia expects Asean to take some action to ensure peace in the disputed area.

"From now on, I will ask the Asean chairman or representative to join every meeting between Cambodia and Thailand," Hor Namhong said. "Even at the meeting of the Cambodia-Thailand Joint Boundary Committee, there must be a representative from Asean, because we have negotiated a lot with Thailand - from 2008 to 2010 - it was useless.

"The negotiations reach an agreement, but they don't implement it, making the excuse that it has not been passed by their Parliament," he said.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the boundary at Preah Vihear for a long time. The current spate of violence erupted in 2008 when Phnom Penh managed to get the Hindu temple listed as a World Heritage Site despite Thailand's disagreement.

Cambodia has, since then, tried to raise the conflict at international forums, including the UN and Asean, seeking help from the organisations to ensure peace in the area.

The issue reached the UN and Asean after a heavy border skirmish from February 4-7, which killed at least 10 people, including three civilians on both sides. Both sides accused each other of starting the fire and invading the territory of the other.

"If Thailand accuses Cambodia of invasion and firing first, it should not reject observers to ensure a permanent ceasefire," Hor Namhong said.

The fighting has continued off and on. Another clash took place in the early hours of yesterday as troops from both sides exchanged small arms fire at Phu Ma Khua hill, a few kilometres west of Preah Vihear. There was no report of any casualties.

Cambodian troops failed at several attempts to break through the Thai front line at the area because of strong resistance, Army spokesman Sansern Kaeowkamnerd said.

Hor Namhong accused Thailand of aggression, saying that "despite the UNSC issuing a statement calling for a permanent ceasefire, Thailand still violated it and opened fire into Cambodian territory".

On Tuesday night, "they still shot ... It was strong, they fired mortars and threw many grenades into our land, and almost every night since before the meeting of the UNSC, they have opened fire and thrown grenades into our land," he said.

Meanwhile Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan is trying to engage in negotiations with his Cambodian counterpart Tea Banh to forge a permanent ceasefire as suggested by the UN, Chavanond said.

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