May 06, 2011
The credibility and prestige of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may be downgraded if it has no effective mechanism to settle Cambodian and Thai border row, academics warned on Thursday.
Pou Sothirak, Cambodian senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said Cambodian and Thai border row is not only damaging bilateral relations in a critical way, but also threatening regional peace and stability.
"If no effective mediation is pursued to contain it, it will undoubtedly affect the credibility and reputation of ASEAN," he said during a two-day conference on strengthening the ASEAN political-security community through preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution mechanism.
The conference brought together representatives from the Network of ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies and members of Cambodian parliament and decision makers from various Cambodian ministries.
Pou Sothirak said that the main challenges to security community are the ASEAN principles of non-interference and the norm of not putting bilateral dispute between members on the ASEAN agenda.
"The principles of non-interference and consensus are the obstacles in the realization of the security community by 2015," he said.
"ASEAN must do something right where failure would mean that the region return to the past of using force to settle disputes," he said. "This in turn will send ASEAN straight into a danger zone of losing its role as driver of the regional security architecture. "
Nem Sowath, a board member of Cambodian Institute of Cooperation and Peace, said ASEAN has played a significant role in coping with regional security issues and threat; however, it does not have appropriate and effective regional mechanism in place when it comes to territorial disputes among its member states.
"Cambodian-Thai border conflict is a case in point. It is a testing ground for ASEAN's ability to solve issues for its member states," he said.
"It is a warning signal to ASEAN to get reformed as soon as possible, otherwise ASEAN can be divided and ASEAN credibility will be downgraded." he said.
The leaders of ASEAN countries will meet on May 7-8 in the 18th summit in Jakarta, Indonesia and the border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand will be included in the agenda.
"In my own opinion, ASEAN should establish a special working group or a conflict resolution mechanism in order to settle Cambodian-Thai border row," he said.
"We wish to see ASEAN to be stronger, more united and more relevant particularly in security issues in order to serve the interests of everyone."
Yeo Lay Hwee, senior research fellow of Singapore Institute of International Affairs said "frankly speaking, ASEAN has really not moved much progress towards confidence building, preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution mechanism."
Suchit Bunbongkam, president of the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific (Thailand), said the measures or conflict resolution mechanism should be established in order to settle issues for its member states and to prevent conflicts in the future.
"The principle of internal sovereignty and non-interference in ASEAN must be observed," he said. "For Cambodia and Thailand border conflict, we wish to see the issue be settled peacefully, not by armed forces."
Cambodian and Thai border has never been completely demarcated. Conflict has happened just a week after Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008.
The latest flare-up had occurred from April 22 until May 3 at the 13th century Ta Moan temple and Ta Krabei temple in Oddar Meanchey province, leaving 19 people on both sides killed and nearly 100,000 civilians fled homes for safe shelters.
Both sides always blamed each other for firstly triggering the attacks.
ASEAN countries consist of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.