May 6, 2011
Jakarta - A proposal to station 30 Indonesian observers along the contentious Thai-Cambodian border in a bid to reduce fighting between the two neighbours is a 'done deal,' Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Friday.
But he acknowledged that more work was needed to implement the deal.
'As far as the terms of reference are concerned (on the agreement), it's a done deal,' Natalegawa said after holding separate talks with his Cambodian and Thai counterparts in Jakarta.
'What remains now is how to operationalize the assignment of the Indonesian observer teams on the ground,' Natalegawa said. 'The big issue is to create conducive conditions.'
Creating those conditions is expected to prove contentious, observers said.
Thai and Cambodian troops have been engaging in skirmishes since mid-2008 over conflicting claims to a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land that is adjacent to the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple perched on a cliff that defines their common border.
Fighting flared up again last month near two other temples 140 kilometres west of Preah Vihear, leaving eight soldiers dead on each side.
The conflict has turned into a hot topic at this weekend's summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), held in Jakarta, capital of the group's current chair Indonesia. ASEAN now holds two summits a year.
In an effort to facilitate a ceasefire between Cambodia and Thailand, Natalegawa in February proposed posting Indonesian observers along the border. That proposal has now been agreed to by both sides, he said.
The Thai Cabinet approved the proposal on Tuesday, but set the condition that Cambodia must withdraw its troops from Preah Vihear temple first.
'We never can withdraw our troops from our own territory. That should be very clear,' Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in Jakarta.
Although the two countries have overlapping claims to land near Preah Vihear, the temple itself was judged to belong to Cambodian by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962.
Cambodia last week petitioned the court to clarify its 1962 ruling to determine which country has sovereignty over land near the temple.
The appeal to the ICJ could undermine the role ASEAN is attempting to play as a peace-maker in its own region, a role that Natalegawa has been pushing during the Indonesian chairmanship.
'The risk of delay is very real,' Natalegawa warned. 'As a person I have infinite patience, but as the chair of ASEAN we all need to see some progress.'
He said that the issue over troop withdrawal from Preah Vihear is an issue that might be resolved through bilateral talks between Cambodia and Thailand, which have set up two joint commissions to handle the issue.