Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as the current chairman of ASEAN, has been urged to appoint a special envoy for the Cambodian-Thai border dispute to back the official and formal measures already encouraged by Indonesia.
Gadjah Mada University Institute of International Studies (IIS) researcher Riza Noer Arfani said that proposed measures, such as sending Indonesian observers to the disputed border and to assist the general border committee, were official and formal in nature.
“The negotiations are very formal. The measures are clear and so are the formats,” he said.
He added that what was needed is thorough observation and study regarding the roots of the conflict, the underlying interests it and what is needed to put an end to the strife.
“This is what the special envoy is tasked with to uncover,” he said, adding that the special envoy mechanism had often been used, including by the UN, the EU and countries, such as the United States, to deal with acute conflicts.
He said that he saw there was potential for the Cambodian-Thai border dispute to escalate into an acute conflict, considering that it has dragged on and both sides continue trying to maintain their own initial positions.
In order to capably help both parties soften their demands, he said a thorough investigation of their base interests, motivations and needs is necessary.
Cambodia, for example, wants Thailand to acknowledge Preah Vihea Temple as a world heritage site that all can make use of. Thailand, on the other hand, has responded differently, considering Cambodia’s actions as a border violation.
“If we look at alternative dispute resolutions, this [disputed border] actually can be jointly managed. But, of course this requires a process. It’s this process that will be done by a special envoy,” he said, adding that formal procedure would not fit such a process.
This process, he went on, needs a person who has mediating expertise and capabilities to thoroughly look into the problem and make both parties sit together at the negotiating table. This person, he said, must take an informal course of interaction before moving on to more formal stages.
“I can mention names for this task, one of them is [former vice president] Jusuf Kalla. If there is no one from Indonesia is thought to be capable, then we can use someone from another country considered neutral, such as Malaysia, the Philippines or Vietnam,” Riza said.
Riza, however, reminded that the special envoy must focus first on the core issue, which is the Preah Vihea Temple, as both Cambodia and Thailand tended to exacerbate the problem in their bid to either maintain or increase their respective bargaining positions.
“The task of a special envoy is to localize the issue so a clearer solution can be found,” he said.
Riza also said that firmness was needed from Indonesia as the chair of ASEAN to deal with the Cambodian-Thai border dispute, adding that otherwise, the conflict could bring instability to the ASEAN region.
“The credibility of Indonesia as the ASEAN chair is at stake,” he said, adding that what had been done by Indonesia so far was already on the right track, except that it lacked speed. “We need to move very quickly. It will be a shame for Indonesia if it cannot put an end to the conflict.”
ASEAN researcher Muhammad Rum, also from Gadjah Mada University’s School of Social and Political Studies, agreed, saying that as ASEAN chair Indonesia has good modality and momentum to improve its diplomatic position in the region.
The public, he said, has great expectations that Indonesia would be able to take ASEAN into more progressive integration in the fields of politics, economy and socio-cultural issues while struggling for national interests and regional millennium goals in the region.
“Sensitive problems have to be negotiated well but must not be taken for granted,” said Rum.
He said that the traditional ASEAN custom of sweeping problems under the rug for the sake of preserving harmony had only complicated existing problems.