By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on February 11, 2011
Security Council to 'complement' bilateral, Asean efforts to end Thai-Cambodian border clashes
Thai efforts to resolve the boundary conflict with Cambodia bilaterally have failed, with international bodies including the United Nations Security Council and Asean now involved in the matter.
The skirmishes from February 4-7 killed at least eight people, including a Thai civilian, and damaged properties including the World Heritage-listed Preah Vihear Temple.
Unlike in past clashes in 2008 and 2009, the UN Security Council has not been deterred from taking up the issue.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen consistently called for the UN body to convene an urgent meeting to stop "Thailand's aggression". At the same time, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wrote to the UN reiterating Thailand's commitment to end the dispute using a bilateral framework.
Bangkok suggested the Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) should resume its work negotiating boundary demarcation by the end of this month, though the exact date has yet to be confirmed. The Cambodians are not likely in the mood to sit down and talk right now.
Hun Sen's strategy to internationalise the issue appears to have worked. The Security Council has requested that its secretariat provide a brief about the situation on Monday and invited Asean chairman Marty Natalegawa, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to attend.
"The Asean chair's attendance at the UNSC meeting represents an evolution of Asean's efforts to resolve bilateral disputes among its members as provided for by the Asean Charter," the bloc's secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said in a statement yesterday.
"This is particularly important as it will set a precedent for future Asean dispute settlement mechanisms."
The Security Council wants its meeting on Monday to boost and complement regional and bilateral efforts, rather than signal that those efforts have failed in any way, according to a UNSC update report.
"The [UNSC] members expressed support for the mediation efforts undertaken by the chair of Asean, the foreign minister of Indonesia, but expressed willingness to hold a Council meeting pending an assessment of the ongoing regional mediation efforts," the report said.
It remains unclear what the results of the UN meeting will be. Security Council president Maria Luiza Viotti, a Brazilian ambassador, will consult with Kasit and Hor Namhong on the format of the meeting later, the report said.
Hun Sen has asked the UN to send peacekeeping forces to create a buffer zone at the disputed border area adjacent to Preah Vihear, which he claims was damaged by artillery shells from Thailand.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has proposed sending an urgent mission to inspect the temple, but Thailand opposes the visit.
"Concerning the current situation at the border, we believe the Unesco mission now is not appropriate and makes the issue more complicated," said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi.
If the Unesco mission really wanted to visit the site, it would need permission from the Thai authorities, since it would have to access the temple via land under the sovereignty of Thailand, he said.
The Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, as ruled by the International Court of Justice in 1962, is situated on territory under sovereignty of Cambodia, though Thailand has argued that it possesses the surrounding areas.
The temple has been at the core of conflict between the two neighbours since last century. In 2008, tensions rose after Unesco listed the temple as a World Heritage site in the face of Thai disagreement.
Abhisit's government hoped the border skirmish would result in the suspension of the Preah Vihear World Heritage listing.
Thailand's JBC chief, Asda Jayanama, will meet with the director of Unesco in Paris today to explain the Thai position on the temple.