By NINIEK KARMINI
The Associated Press
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Southeast Asian leaders made little headway Sunday in helping Thailand and Cambodia end a deadly border dispute that could undermine peace and stability in the region as it pushes for economic integration.
Armed police officers gear up prior to deployment to secure the venue of the 18th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit meetings in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, May 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Irwin Fedriansyah)
Indonesian military personnel man the entrance to the venue of the 18th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit meetings in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, May 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Irwin Fedriansyah)
The prime ministers of the two feuding nations held talks Sunday — mediated by Indonesia's president — as part of efforts to hammer out a lasting cease-fire.
But neither seemed in any mood to back down.
"There's no conclusion," Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters after the trilateral meeting, providing few details. "We'll need further talks after this."
Other topics discussed during the two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit included Myanmar's successful bid to take over the rotating chair of the regional grouping in 2014 and concerns about spiraling food and energy prices and maritime security.
The 10 heads of state were especially nervous about the potentially oil-rich Spratly islands, claimed in whole or in part by China and four ASEAN members — Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam.
The smaller nations, together with the U.S., worry that China may use its military might to seize the area outright or assume de facto control with naval patrols.
That could threaten one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.
"We deemed the South China Sea issue, in all its various dimensions, as having the potential to undermine the stability of our region," according to the final communique released after the meeting.
Member countries agreed to work toward ending a nine-year disagreement with China that has blocked completion of guidelines for an accord aimed at preventing armed conflicts over the disputed islands.
As part of that deal, the claimant nations could pursue joint development projects to ease tensions in the South China Sea region.
The annual summit was supposed to focus on developing an integrated regional economic zone by 2015.
But Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the host, said in his opening statement that little can be accomplished without peace and stability among member countries.
To that end, he agreed to mediate the talks Sunday between the Cambodian and Thai prime ministers about repeated outbreaks of fighting that have killed nearly 20 people in the last two weeks. Another 100,000 fled their homes at the peak of the clashes.
The deadly spat — allegedly over control of ancient temples claimed by the two nations — has stirred nationalist sentiment on both sides.
But analysts say domestic politics is fanning the fire, especially in Thailand, where the military that staged a coup in 2006 could be posturing ahead of elections expected as early as next month.
Neither side appeared ready to budge, however.
During the plenary session on Saturday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called a demand by Thailand to withdraw troops from the area before it allows for the deployment of outside military observers both "irrational and unacceptable."
"It's Thailand that has to withdraw its troops from the vicinity," he said, reiterating his position to reporters following Sunday's three-way talks.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that while "differences remain," the two sides agreed, at least, that future talks about the disputed border should include the major sticking point about where troops from each country should be deployed.
"The ultimate objective must be to achieve lasting peace" not to score "political points," he said, agreeing with Hun Sen to allow their foreign ministers to continue the dialogue on Monday.
Meanwhile, Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, who heads the military-backed party that overwhelmingly won general elections late last year, won approval for his request to chair ASEAN in 2014 despite concerns about his country's human rights record.
The regional grouping chairmanship is supposed to rotate annually among its 10 member countries.
Myanmar was forced to skip its turn in 2005, however, after heavy pressure from the international community over slow progress on human rights and other issues.
The final communique said Southeast Asian leaders "consented" to Thein Sein's proposal.
ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.
May 08, 2011