Abdul Khalik and Adianto P. Simamora
The Jakarta Post
Jakarta | Fri, 03/25/2011
While Cambodian and Thai ministers have agreed on Indonesia’s involvement in their border dispute, the Thai military opposes Indonesia’s role, insisting that the dispute be resolved bilaterally without the involvement of any third party.
The rejection of the Thai military to a role being played by Indonesia, the current ASEAN chair, threatens to derail efforts of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa while delegitimating Indonesia’s leadership and scaling back ASEAN’s role in settling disputes of members, observers here warned.
“Indonesia has to persuade all parties involved, including the military, that through negotiation they can solve the dispute,” Adinda Tenriangke Muchtar, the program director of the Indonesian Institute, said.
She said that both countries had tried to solve the dispute bilaterally a number of times and had failed every time.
“So, it’s highly appropriate that ASEAN and Indonesia lend a hand to help,” Adinda said.
At an Indonesia-brokered ASEAN’s foreign minister meeting in Jakarta last month, Thailand and Cambodia agreed to accept a dispatch of Indonesian observers to the disputed area adjacent to the ancient Khmer Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, where heavy fighting erupted in February.
Indonesia also called for meetings of the Thai-Cambodia General Border Committee (GBC) and Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) on March 24 and 25, but later postponed them to April 7 and 8 in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan hailed the agreement as a “historic day” for the 10-nation bloc, but more than a month later the observer team remains in Jakarta and Thailand’s military now says it is not needed.
Indonesia said Thursday that ASEAN’s plan to send Indonesian military observers to the disputed Thai-Cambodia border had stalled as it awaited approvals from Bangkok and Phnom Penh.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, however, said that Indonesia had not received any official rejection from Thailand or Cambodia over the dispatch of Indonesian observers.
“Up to this moment, we haven’t had any official rejection from the Thai or Cambodian governments. We only read the generals’ statements in the media. What we have is the written statement supporting Indonesia’s role and observer team,” he said.
Marty said that Indonesia would not send observers if they were not welcome.
“But the choice is clear. If ASEAN does not get involved then the UN will, as was the case in February. We think that all parties involved will remember this fact.”
Thai army chief Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Wednesday the observers were not wanted in the disputed area near an 11th-century temple because it was too dangerous and they would only complicate matters.
He said the border meeting should be held first so that the defense ministers of two countries could talk and find a solution as to whether the ASEAN observers should enter the area or not.
If the observers do cross the border, he did not want them to enter the disputed area as it is a dangerous zone and their presence would make it more difficult to solve the conflict.
Thai media reported on Thursday that Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban voiced support Thursday for Gen. Prayuth’s view that no third party should be involved in the GBC meeting as it was a bilateral issue.
He said Indonesia, in its capacity as ASEAN chair, or any other country, should not meddle in the border committee meeting.
Gen. Prayuth said he and other Thai military commanders resolved not to attend the GBC meeting in Bogor proposed by Indonesia and agreed to by Cambodia, saying that any talks must be bilateral only.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s administration has been under heavy criticism by a number of groups in Thailand as it was seen as weak in confronting Cambodia, with nationalist groups, especially the Yellow Shirts, which is considered close to both the military and the royal family, staging rallies to demand the prime minister step down.
Observers have said that as the Thai election is nearing, the border dispute with Cambodia has been used by some parties planning to challenge Abhisit in the upcoming election while groups in the military simply wanted to exploit the issue to strengthen their position.
The political situation in Thailand is also complicated by the continued rallies of the anti-government Red Shirts, a group associated with former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.