The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
An Indonesian-brokered meeting aimed at defusing a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia ended Monday evening, with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa later describing the outcome as positive and claiming progress.
However after three hours of intensive talks, Thailand still insisted that Cambodian troops must withdraw from the disputed border area before any further talks could be held, a condition the Cambodian leader rejected during meeting Sunday’s ASEAN summit.
Marty said Indonesia had proposed a package solution to the deadlock, but did not elaborate.
According to analysts, this may mean a combination of having Thailand sign a term of reference allowing Indonesia to send in observers to the disputed area, meeting the Thai-Cambodian general border committee and withdrawing its troops from the disputed areas.
“In a very interactive and dynamic meeting, both sides have shown the spirit of solving the dispute peacefully. They have the consensus to accept Indonesia’s proposal of having a package solution,” Marty told the press after the meeting
“With this package approach, we don’t talk about who will take what step first anymore before the other takes a step. We should see this as a process, not an event. This way, our chances of having progress are more open.”
Marty said that both ministers would return to their respective countries to consult with their respective leaders and government.
“We will await the responses from each of the governments,” he said.
While reaching a consensus at the ministerial level is considered a success by Jakarta, experts and officials from both sides have agreed that domestic politics in each of the countries will have a far more significant impact on the dispute.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will face a major test in Thailand’s July general elections, when he will run against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose supporters call themselves the Red Shirts, and a nationalist group loyal to the royal family and the military called the Yellow Shirts.
Abhisit’s response to the dispute with Cambodia has prompted critics to label him as weak.
“There is always an element or group of nationalists and they may have very strong nationalistic feelings, and they’re part of society,” Abhisit said in an interview with The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
“But my government has demonstrated clearly that we listen to them but we would do what is best and what is necessary in the interests of the country and we protect our sovereignty and we protect our territory,” he said.
Experts have said that backing down from their demands for Cambodian troops to withdraw from the border is not a credible option for Abhisit.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s popularity has peaked since he began taking a tough stance on Thailand.
“The withdrawal of Cambodian troops and people from our own territory is not acceptable,” he told a press conference during Sunday’s summit.