(Source: The Manilla Times)By The Manila Times, Philippines
April 29--Israeli leaders expectedly condemned the unity announced in Cairo, where the two Palestinian factions were holding talks. The Israelis' initial reaction was to say that Fatah-Hamas unification would harm chances for peace between them and the Palestinians. President Abbas, however, said unity in Palestine would pave the way for peace.
The announcement in Cairo said the Palestine Authority and the Hamas Islamists controlling Gaza have agreed to form a transitional government of the future Palestine state, ahead of elections to be held within a year.
Why did the sudden "outbreak of peace" come about? The Fatah and Hamas officials engaged in the Cairo negotiations both said it was a result of the freeze in peace talks between the Palestine Authority and Israel and the upheavals going on in the Arab countries.
President Abbas (quoted by Agence France-Presse) said on Thursday he hoped the unity agreement achieved between his Fatah party and Hamas would promote revival of negotiations with Israel. He said, "We hope that it will bring all the factions of the Palestinians to accept the Quartet conditions." The Quartet is the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. One of its demands is that any Palestinian government must accept previous agreements, recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Of greater and immediate importance to us in the Philippines and our fellow members of the Association of Asian Nations (Asean) is the also "surprise" ceasefire agreement that Thailand and Cambodia made yesterday.
The two neighbors had been fighting on their common border for seven days. The clashes resulted in 15 deaths.
Until last Wednesday, it did not appear that the fierce fighting would soon stop, and it looked like the Thai-Cambodian conflict was surely going to get worse because talks that had previously been set to take place in Phnom Penh on Wednesday were called off at the last minute by Thailand's defense minister.
The armed forces of both countries have been shooting at each other since February, when their dispute about an ancient temple erupted in an actual war. There was a ceasefire but this ended last week when shooting began again.
Both Bangkok and Phnom Penh say it is the other's fault that war has broken out over two contested temples in the jungle between the two countries. This conflict has caused 75,000 civilians to be displaced. Scores of soldiers on both sides have been killed.
This episode in this decades-long war has been the bloodiest so far. Six Thai soldiers and a civilian and eight Cambodian soldiers were killed.
In February, the European Union foreign policy secretary echoed an earlier call from the United Nations Security Council for a permanent ceasefire.
And the American Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kinney (whose previous posting is the Philippines) on Thursday called on both countries to return to the negotiating table.
Asean leaders have also been appealing to Thailand and Cambodia to stop fighting.
The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated. Part of the reason is because the jungles are littered with landmines left over from the years when Cambodia was ruled by the Communist Khmer Rouge (which was, of course, the enemy of democratic monarchy Thailand) at war with non-communists as well as with a faction of Cambodian communists supported by Vietnam.
On Tuesday, the fighting briefly spread to the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple. This temple has been the focus of the conflict between the neighbors since the United Nations gave it UN World Heritage status in 2008.
The clashes that began last week were however centered not in Preah Vihear temple but in two other ancient temples that are 150 kilometers away to the east.
In late February, both countries agreed to let monitors from Indonesia observe the grounds near Preah Vihear. But the Thai military later withdrew its approval of the foreign observers' arrival.
In 1962, the World Court ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia. But Thailand, as Cambodia does, claims ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometer surrounding area.
Cambodia accuses Thailand of having used spy planes and poison gas in the recent fighting. Thailand denies this allegation.
It is not just the two countries' concern for territorial integrity that is causing the border war.
Domestic politics in both Thailand and Cambodia also appears to be a reason why clashes suddenly erupt. The Abhisit government in Thailand must not appear weak against Cambodia. And the ruling party in Cambodia has retained Prime Minister Abhisit's rival, ousted and exiled former Thai PM Thaksin, as an adviser.
This war is a test of Asean's effectiveness as an organization. Thailand does not want to internationalize the conflict and insists that there are enough bilateral mechanisms to solve the problem.
A major next step for Asean is to become a united economy. That is obviously put into question if war persists--if only a border one--between two members.
Asean is also seen as a region--just as China and East Asia and India and South Asia--in which global economic growth depends.
Asean must grow into a regional grouping that exercises a more effective say on the behavior of its members than it does now.
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