BANGKOK, March 23 - Thai army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha on Wednesday said resolving the border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia will be more difficult if Indonesia sends observers into the disputed areas claimed by both neighbours.
The Thai army commander-in-chief expressed his disagreement following reports that Indonesian observers will enter the contested zone to observe the situation.
Tension along the Thai-Cambodian border was renewed with several clashes between soldiers of the two countries near the ancient Preah Vihear temple in early February, leading to casualties among the troops and civilians on both sides, as well as forcing the evacuation of villagers in the areas.
Indonesia, as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said it will send a team to observe the borders of Thailand and Cambodia, but not as a peacekeeping or peace enforcement team.
Gen Prayuth commented that he disagreed with the observer team, no matter from which country, but it depends on the decision of the government and the foreign ministry.
The army chief reasoned that the border conflict should be resolved at the bilateral level, adding he has no objection if the observer team will stay at the border but their location must be fixed first.
"I earlier said the Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee (GBC) meeting should be held first so that the defence ministers of two countries will talk and find a solution as to whether the ASEAN observers should enter the area or not," Gen Prayuth said.
"If the observers will really enter at the borders, I don't want them to enter the disputed area as it's dangerous zone and will make it more difficult to solve the conflict."
Gen Prayuth reiterated that the Defence Ministry, the Royal Thai Army and the commanders of Thailand three branches of the armed forces also disagreed with the move regarding ASEAN observers.
Regarding the possible GBC meeting, the army chief said Thailand has proposed to its neighbour to hold the meeting as soon as possible and that Thailand is ready to host the event if Cambodia is not ready.
Gen Prayuth added any agreement regarding the border dispute cannot be achieved by either country alone but with mutual agreement by the two countries.
In a related development, Thai foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said on Wednesday the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh has already submitted letters seeking royal pardons from the Cambodian monarch for two convicted Thai activists of Thai Patriots Network on Mar 14.
Mr Thani said he has been informed that Cambodia is considering letters of Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, while reaffirming that any political change in Thailand will not affect the royal pardon request of the two Thai nationals.
The spokesman added he cannot tell when the royal pardon request process will be completed as it depends on the consideration of Cambodian authorities case by case.
A Cambodian court on Feb 1 ruled that the two were guilty of espionage, illegal entry, and trespassing in a military zone. Mr Veera was sentenced to an eight-year jail term while Ms Ratree was handed a six-year jail term. Mr Veera's health is reportedly deteriorating as he has congenital diseases and has not been given appropriate medical treatment and nutrition while serving his jail term there. (MCOT online news)