Saturday, February 26, 2011
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation (Thailand)/Asia News Network
BANGKOK -- ASEAN, Thailand and Cambodia set a precedent when they came up with a resolution for the border dispute on Tuesday.
Boundary conflicts are not abnormal in this region, but each country employs different methods of resolving them. For instance, the Malaysia-Indonesia conflict over Sipadan and Ligitan islands, as well as the Singapore-Malaysia discord over the Batu Puteh island were taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which issued verdicts on the cases in 2002 and 2008 respectively.
In comparison, Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the Preah Vihear Temple since last century, and even though the case was taken to the ICJ, Thailand has been resisting the verdict since 1962.
Cambodia, referring to the 1962 ICJ ruling that “the temple is situated in the territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia,” handed the case over to United Nations Security Council claiming that Thailand was invading its territory. Phnom Penh obviously hopes to have the U.N. enforce the ICJ ruling and keep Thai soldiers away from the areas surrounding the Hindu temple.
Thailand, on the other hand, has been arguing that the ICJ ruling only gave Cambodia the sandstone temple, not the surrounding areas.
However, common sense says that a temple cannot stand on Cambodian territory unless its surrounding land is also Cambodian.
Yet Bangkok has been maintaining its argument for nearly half a century now and wants to exercise its power and get Phnom Penh to accept it.
Unfortunately, Cambodia is not the same old Cambodia it was in the last century. The current set of leaders know how to seek international help and achieve their goals. They have managed to steer the country through turbulence to the Paris Accord and a U.N.-sponsored election and end up becoming a true member of the ASEAN — a grouping comprising former enemies. Nobody should underestimate these leaders.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, in his role as chairman, and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan are smart enough to know that this is a great opportunity for the grouping to show its capability in ending this conflict.
Natalegawa began his shuttle diplomacy as gunfire was being heard near Preah Vihear, while Surin worked hard behind the scenes to get things done. The latest resolution of sending Indonesian observers to the conflict area is a solid outcome.
Cambodia's strategy of taking the issue to the international arena via meetings in Jakarta and New York has clearly worked.
On the other hand, Thailand's traditional demand for a bilateral settlement came to a stop when it agreed to sit in the New York and Jakarta talks. It's very rare for Thailand to allow “outsiders” to monitor its border affairs, even more abnormal for it to get into “proper engagement” with the ASEAN chair Indonesia.
Obviously, Thailand's diplomatic landscape will never be the same.