Thursday, 17 February 2011

Thailand should accept mediation to solve border dispute with Cambodia

via CAAI

by Sinfah Tunsarawuth

BANGKOK, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- Thailand should accept a third- party mediation to help solve its border dispute with Cambodia as bilateral talks seemed to have failed to make any progress, a key academic has said.

"It has been proved that bilateral negotiation between the two countries doesn't work," Akkharaphong Khamkhun, who teaches Southeast Asian affairs at the Thammasat University, told Xinhua News Agency in an interview.

Akkharaphong said he saw Monday's meeting at the United Nations Security Council in New York on the dispute, which has recently raised global concern with the eruption of a series of deadly crossfire between Thai and Cambodian soldiers across the border, as already an intervention by a third party.

"For Thailand, I don't see any reason that we have to be scared of a third-party (mediation)," he said.

The government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted that the border dispute be solved through existing bilateral mechanism while Phnom Penh seems to prefer mediation by the UN or the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, as the current ASEAN chair, has called a meeting of the regional grouping's foreign ministers in Jakarta on Feb. 22 to discuss the Thai- Cambodian border dispute, which is currently involved with a 4.6-square kilometer plot of land, claimed by both countries, around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

Akkharaphong, who is attached to Thammasat's Pridi Banomyong International College, suggested an intervention as high as the world court.

He said if the Abhisit government believed it had strong evidence to argue for its case, it should not be afraid of having the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on the issue.

"Why don't we just bring it back to the ICJ again?" he said. "We need someone to be a mediator who can find out the truth."


Akkharaphong said the ICJ ruling in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple, straddling the two countries' common border, belongs to Cambodia was a "wounded history" for many Thai people.

"People always dream of getting it back," he said.

But he said the Thai government should not give Thai people a false hope that the 1962 ruling could be overturned.

Other academics and observers have also remarked that the Abhisit government should not let the Thai public believe that the enlisting of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site could be reversed either.

The Abhisit government disagreed with the enlisting as it was done unilaterally by Phnom Penh on July 7, 2008.

Phnom Penh is now trying to have the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and World Heritage committee to endorse its plan for the administering of the 4.6-square kilometer piece of land.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit said on Feb. 13 that the UNESCO could help alleviate the border tension between Thailand and Cambodia by not proceeding with any decision on the land administering.


Akkharaphong said the border dispute has been used by politicians of both nations as a nationalism ploy for political gains, though in different manners.

He said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has used the nationalism issue to fight Thailand as a foreign nation, while the issue is being fought domestically in Thailand between Abhisit and the nationalistic "yellow-shirt" People's Alliance for Democracy.

PAD leaders, calling for Abhisit to get tougher with Phnom Penh on the border dispute, wanted the government to scrap an existing memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the two countries in 2000 as the framework for settling the two countries' disputed border areas.

They also wanted the government to move out Cambodians who are occupying the disputed areas, and the government to pull out as a party to the World Heritage Convention.

Abhisit has rejected all the demands, saying that it would further complicate the conflict.

PAD supporters, who have been occupying a strip of the historical Ratchadamnern Road in the capital since Jan. 25, have reiterated that they would not retreat until their demands are met.

But Akkharaphong, 39, said younger Thai people were not as concerned about sovereignty over border land as their older nationalistic compatriots were.

"I think new generation of people like me .. does not really care about how many pieces of land we will lose," he said. "But they think about how we will cooperate or study each other."

Editor: Xiong Tong

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