GOVT PUSH FOR BILATERAL SOLUTION TO BORDER ROW TAKES EARLY HIT
Thailand's attempts to solve its border dispute with Cambodia through bilateral means have hit a snag after Cambodia said it would not attend a Joint Boundary Commission meeting.
ROCKY ROAD: Children get off the bus taking them home to Ban Phum Srol in Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district. The village was shelled during clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops.
The meeting had been tentatively scheduled for the end of this month but Var Kimhong, president of Cambodia's JBC, was yesterday quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying: "There will be no meeting of the JBC later this month. Now, bilateral mechanisms cannot resolve the issue".
The last JBC meeting took place in 2009. They were shelved amid deteriorating relations between the two nations.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong talked during the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission (a separate body) meeting in Siem Reap earlier this month.
Both sides agreed to revive the JBC meetings and tentatively scheduled the next one for late February.
Since the border skirmish erupted on Feb 4, Thailand has stood firm in its stance that the dispute be resolved through the JBC, but Var Kimhong's remark could shut the door on Thailand's attempts to use the channel.
Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the foreign minister, yesterday said the ministry had not received official notification from Cambodia that it would not attend the JBC meeting, although he conceded there were signs that it would not take part.
But Mr Chavanond said Bangkok stands firm in its determination to hold the meeting as efforts to settle the border dispute continue.
He said the matter would be decided after Mr Kasit returns from the United Nations Security Council's meeting on the Thai-Cambodian issue in New York tomorrow.
Hor Namhong and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, will also attend the New York meeting.
Second Region Army chief Lt Gen Thawatchai Samutsakhon said Cambodia might be opposed to the JBC meeting taking place because it wants to internationalise the matter.
"Such a stance [to derail the JBC process] is not beyond our speculation," he said.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said he welcomed Mr Marty's plan to hold a meeting of all Asean foreign ministers to discuss the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.
The invitations for the meeting, set for Feb 22, were sent out on Friday.
Mr Kasit has received his invitation and confirmed he will attend.
However, Mr Abhisit said the meeting must give priority to the bilateral framework between Thailand and Cambodia.
Indonesia, as Asean chair, should only work as a facilitator to support bilateral talks, he said.
"We have confirmed our position that the border conflict must be solved bilaterally," added Mr Abhisit.
However, he said he pinned his hopes on the UNSC meeting to help Thailand clarify what had happened in fighting between troops on the Thai-Cambodian border to the international community.
Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan yesterday said Mr Marty had kept Asean informed during his recent "diplomacy shuttle" between Phnom Penh and Bangkok as he tried to defuse the situation.
"We are encouraged to hear the willingness of both parties to allow Asean to offer our good offices, conciliation and mediation as required by our Asean charter," Mr Surin said in Jakarta.
"It will be a first for Asean to get involved directly and intimately in a conflict between member states.
"But we will have no choice if the UNSC throws the case back to us after its meeting in New York."
Mr Surin said the Asean Secretariat is ready to lend support for Thailand and Cambodia to find their own amicable solutions.
"What the multilateral forum of the Asean FMs can do is provide moral support and encouragement for both parties to exert maximum efforts to find their own way out of their bilateral conflict," he said.