Monday, 21 February 2011

via CAAI

Published: 21/02/2011

There's no doubt that the real winner in the ''speech'' contest in New York last Monday was the host, the United Nations Security Council.

The council called a meeting at the UN headquarters to hear statements on the Thai-Cambodian border strife from Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, who then simply walked out of the room.

The UN body carefully and intentionally made sure this ''contest'' ended with the Thai and Cambodian speakers being able to return home claiming a moral victory.

The public, both here and in Cambodia, should not get carried away with the claims made by Mr Kasit, Hor Namhong, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva or Cambodian leader Hun Sen. What they said was merely for domestic political consumption. No one wants to admit they were the loser; that would be a political disaster for both countries.

The real winner last week was neither Thailand nor Cambodia. It was the Security Council itself which showed the world what carefully designed diplomacy is all about. It made Cambodia look like the winner when the UN security body decided to take up the issue after the first exchange of gunfire on Feb 4 near Preah Vihear. That's what Hun Sen wanted from the beginning. Then it turned to Thailand and made the kingdom look like the winner, too, with the decision not to position blue-beret peacekeepers at the border and made no legally binding decision. Council members just wanted this matter to end for good in talks, not by tanks, and give the Association of Southeast Asian Nations a chance to play a role to mend the rift, if not to solve the problem.

If the border area contained oil reserves, the council would not have made the decision this way. Had this incident taken place some 40 years ago when one country after another was falling to the Communists, the call by the council would have been another thing. Sure, the border spat is something that has other Asean members worried. But it has only limited impact on regional security as it is being seen as two neighbours quarreling with each other in a game tinged with national pride, political motives and, unfortunately, unnecessary loss of life and injuries to soldiers and ordinary people.

In the speeches delivered by the Thai and Cambodian ministers last week, the two countries took different positions, making accusations against each other and, for Thailand in particular, unnecessarily reminding the international community of what Thailand has done for the neighbour as it was recovering from its own internal strife _ thus there is no reason for the kingdom to start an armed fight with Cambodia.

''We have attached great importance to maintaining and promoting friendly relations with Cambodia. We gave refuge to millions of Cambodian refugees. We were supportive of the peace process in Cambodia with Thai soldiers participating in peacekeeping efforts in Cambodia under the United Nations and were active in the reconstruction of Cambodia,'' Mr Kasit said in his statement. Hor Namhong was very strong when he tried to convince the Security Council to do something against ''Thailand 's aggression which has gravely endangered peace and stability in the region'' by dispatching UN peacekeepers or observers to the disputed frontier.

But it would be too pessimistic to say that there is no chance to find a solution to the problem by leaders in their capitals, with or without help from Asean. Thailand does not want the sovereignty issue of that 4.6 square kilometre areas to be dragged into the World Court, given the bitter history of the World Court's ruling over Preah Vihear. Cambodia is not willing to talk it over with Thailand alone and, after almost 50 years, it is still boosted by the court's favourable ruling on the temple. The process will be long, painful and no guarantee that the 1962 victory will be repeated.

A chance for a solution with a win-win situation to this problem begins with the strong political will of their leaders. Thus far, it has not been found in Bangkok nor Phnom Penh.


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