By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on April 27, 2011
The latest border skirmish between Thailand and Cambodia at Ta Mouan Thom temple is solid proof that Abhisit Vejjajiva's foreign policy and diplomatic skill towards Cambodia are absolutely wrong and have failed to help bring peace with its neighbour.
Many soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in recent years since Thailand opposed Cambodia's plan to get World Heritage listing for the Preah Vihear temple in 2008.
The latest clash at Ta Mouan and Ta Kwai (known in Cambodia as Ta Krabei), some 150km west of Preah Vihear, is just an extension of the conflict in February, which was caused by Cambodian disappointment at Abhisit's policy.
The issue became complicated and very difficult to resolve as the current Thai government mixed everything up. Thailand and Cambodia's conflict these days are a combination of boundary issues, military arrangements at the border, management of the World Heritage plan, as well as local and international politics.
The root cause of the problem began when Abhisit's government linked the World Heritage management plan with boundary demarcation of areas near to the temple. This government would use all means to block the management plan for Preah Vihear if demarcation of the boundary is not completed.
But even a schoolboy knows that boundary demarcation is time-consuming work and it could be separated from the management of World Heritage property. Legal experts agree that World Heritage listing should not cause Thailand to lose rights of sovereignty over territory adjacent to the temple - if that land really belongs to this country.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also knows that Abhisit wants to use this issue to delay his plan for Preah Vihear.
Abhisit has felt compelled to do this, as he has been pressured by conservative and nationalist groups, which have camped near his office for months now.
A plan to make permanent peace at the border was also deferred because the Thai military hesitated to receive Indonesian observers at the border. The government has stalled on this since it agreed to the proposal in February. No observer from Indonesia has set a foot on the ground since the last clash at Preah Vihear in February.
Perhaps it's too shallow to think that Cambodia attacked Thailand simply because it wants to 'internationalise' the conflict. Would anybody think twice on why Phnom Penh might want to do this? And why Thailand was so scared of a multilateral forum wanting to resolve the problem?
Abhisit insists from time to time that existing bilateral mechanisms should be used to strike a deal with Cambodia over the conflict - as though he never knew that such a method would be ineffective at settling a contemporary dispute.
It sounds very na๏ve to call local commanders on both sides for a ceasefire when everybody knows that only Prime Minister Hun Sen can make such a decision. So the question is why doesn't Abhisit, as head of government, call his Cambodian counterpart to get a ceasefire?
If the government has no diplomatic capacity to convince Cambodian leaders to settle the conflict, the only option is for an acceptable third party. So, if Thailand has nothing to hide, having foreign observers at the border to monitor a cease-fire should not be a worry.
In this context, Asean, which is now chaired by Indonesia, is available and ready to enhance its role in solving the problem for its two member states.
Phnom Penh is also ready to comply with Asean's line, as it called for observers. But the problem has been on our side.
Time is running out and the situation is escalating. Perhaps the original plan to dispatch only 15 Indonesian observers on each side is not enough now. If Thailand wants to limit the size of the problem and find a solution, it needs to adjust its position and make a decision now.