Asean hopes for border resolution lie in tatters
Newspaper section: News
JAKARTA : The Thai and Cambodian leaders emerged from their meeting at the Asean summit yesterday pointing the blame at each other for the border dispute and dashing hopes by host Indonesia for an early solution.
The leaders stood firm in their positions during the one-hour meeting, which observers acknowledged was a failure.
Although both sides have agreed to allow their foreign ministers to discuss the issue further today, observers were sceptical they would make any headway.
Kasit Piromya and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong are expected to meet at 3.30pm.
Almost immediately after the leaders' meeting mediated by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the sidelines of the 18th Asean summit, the Thai and Cambodian prime ministers called press conferences to point the blame at each other.
It was the first time Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had met since the border clashes resumed last month, killing 18 people.
Mr Abhisit announced before his departure from Bangkok for the summit that he would not meet Hun Sen unless Cambodia withdrew its troops and residents from the area around Preah Vihear temple. Hun Sen said that Cambodia regarded Preah Vihear temple and its surrounds as Cambodian territory.
"We will not withdraw our troops from our own territory," he said.
Cambodia, he added, had agreed with Indonesia's offer to send observers to the disputed border area.
Thailand, by contrast, had created additional conditions by demanding Cambodia withdraw troops and that the General Border Committee discuss the matter.
Hun Sen said Cambodia would follow UN Security Council guidelines in seeking Asean assistance to settle the dispute.
The widening clashes at Ta Muen and Ta Kwai temples near Surin would be settled through bilateral mechanisms, he said.
Mr Abhisit said Cambodia's approach was inconsistent.
The countries had reached a Memorandum of Understanding in 2000 as a blueprint for solving their differences over their border.
But instead of trying to solve the problem bilaterally, Cambodia had tried to internationalise the Preah Vihear dispute by taking a case to the Security Council and the International Court of Justice.
"Why do they need a different approach? The problem arises due to the movements of troops along the border. The talks on the border conflict and other details on the location of the observers should be handled as one package," Mr Abhisit said.
The Thai conditions were not new. Indonesia had been informed about them four or five times previously.
Mr Abhisit denied trying to score points against Cambodia.
"The aim must be to achieve lasting peace, so we can live side by side along the border," he said.
Both leaders admitted yesterday the conflict could affect Asean's goal to become a single community in 2015 but blamed each other for endangering the prospect.
"I accept that the issue could affect Asean's credibility. We must make sure that any problem can be solved locally, bilaterally, and if needed, with help from the region," Mr Abhisit said.
"Thailand recognises that any conflict between Asean member states can undermine Asean's efforts."
Hun Sen admitted that the border row was spoiling the summit.
"Everyone knows that the problem at the border has been spoiling the atmosphere and also creates a challenge for Asean," he said.
"I'm not sure whether we can go forward or not, but at least the atmosphere of the meeting was good."
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa expressed relief that both countries were willing to have their foreign ministers meet again to discuss the matter.
Other Asean leaders were less than hopeful. Philippine President Benigno Aquino, speaking late on Saturday, said Asean unity was at stake and he was concerned the conflict could worsen.