Mustaqim Adamrah, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Thai and Cambodian military forces continue to exchange fire in their border area as both countries lay claim to the Preah Vihear Temple and its surrounding area although they have committed to a cease-fire a number of times. Indonesian and Cambodian journalists, including The Jakarta Post’s Mustaqim Adamrah, had a chance to interview Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya during his visit to Jakarta last week. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Question: Thailand and Cambodia have repeatedly pledged to maintain a cease-fire in February and last Thursday. So why did clashes occur again two weeks ago, with the latest last Friday?
Answer: To reaffirm for the record, we never started the clashes. We have no reason to be unfriendly to Cambodia.
First, we are major exporters to Cambodia. Our exports to Cambodia make up 90 percent of bilateral trade [between Thailand and Cambodia]. So, it’s on our interest to keep trading with and exporting to Cambodia.
Second, we are becoming major investors in [Cambodia] in many fields: electricity generation, [manufacturing] industry, tourism, healthcare and construction.
Third, we welcome 150,000 Cambodian workers to Thailand under a bilateral memorandum of understanding.
Fourth, we are becoming a major donor to Cambodian development, education, social, health and infrastructure development.
Fifth, there’s a growth in Thai tourism to Cambodia and at the same time, we are a transit point as international airlines come to Thailand and visitors take regional airlines to Cambodia. So Thailand is an entry point for Cambodian tourism.
Sixth, we started and initiated the ASEAN master plan of connectivity: physical infrastructure, roads, railways, ICT [information and communication technology], electricity and other things, inclusive of the Mekong River development, as well as people-to-people contact.
We and Cambodia are two kingdoms, one destination. Two months ago, we had an agreement with Cambodia for Cambodians to enter Thailand without the need for visas.
The Thai side of the border is heavily populated. Why should we fight when the munitions fall on Thai villages? The Cambodian side is sparsely populated.
It would be silly for us to keep shooting when we know very well that artillery from Cambodia will fall on villages, temples and schools as has been shown on television.
Last time we had to evacuate about 20,000 people. We had to build houses, repair temples and schools, and we had to build more bunkers.
The physical side [construction] is not as important as the morale of the people. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people have been displaced. Instead of spending time looking after their animals, growing rice and tapioca, they have to sleep on temple floors. The damage is not only on the dollar. It’s frightening to hear the gunfire.
What triggered the additional clashes at two separate temples — 150 kilometers away from Preah Vihear — where February’s skirmishes occurred?
From our point of view, the position of the two military units is about 50 meters apart.
Ten days ago, we found out that the Cambodians had moved closer to the Thai side and started to dig bunkers. So we told the Cambodian soldiers to move back and that’s when they started to shoot.
How has Indonesia played out its role as chair of ASEAN? Is it failing to do its job, especially in light of the latest clashes?
We highly appreciate the role of Indonesia — the seriousness, the sense of purpose and the goodwill. So we do whatever we can [to cooperate].
I don’t think [Indonesia is failing] because its responsibility is more or less behind the scenes. No one expected that fighting would break out 150 kilometers away [from the original flash point].
The conflict between the two countries is a waste of time. It’s a waste of resources for the Indonesian government, for Cambodia and for Thailand.
We have to respect and honor the role and involvement of Indonesia. Thailand is not in a position to embarrass the Indonesian government.
It’s sad for ASEAN that the two countries keep on fighting. I’m ashamed. It’s an embarrassment to ASEAN that this conflict has dragged us to the UN.