Published: 2/05/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
The Thai-Cambodian border skirmishes will be protracted, predicts Rajabhat University academic Boonrueng Katchama in Surin, the scene of the latest clashes.
Mr Boonrueng tells KING-OUA LAOHONG that the border conflict is unlikely to end any time soon because it is not a mere two-country affair.
Do you think any talks between 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Thawatchai Samutsakorn and Cambodia's Lt Gen Chea Mon, chief of the Cambodian 4th Region Army are likely to result in a ceasefire agreement?
Boonrueng: Battling vested interests
A truce in the next couple of months will be hard to achieve. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wants any talks to resolve the border conflict to be mediated by a third country.
He wants to include territorial disputes over the Ta Kwai and Ta Muen Thom temples in the wider process to settle the conflict.
This is to gain an upper hand in the process. But the whole issue illustrates the blunders committed by both Thailand and Cambodia as well as present and past committees in charge of border demarcation.
The first attempt at demarcation was made in 1867 and the most recent in 1907 during the reign of King Rama 5.
The border once had 73 demarcation posts, but only 40 or so of them can be found now.
Each time the border was demarcated, one side or the other would hand over land, but this was not the same as losing the country's territory.
Since 1907, no further demarcation work has been done.
After the Cambodian civil war, Khmer Rouge soldiers retreated to the Thai border and uprooted the demarcation posts. We didn't pay attention or fight to restore the posts, many of which were lost. Past governments were reluctant to raise the issue because it could put the country at a disadvantage and hurt their electoral support.
Thailand has insisted it is ready to talk and asked Cambodia to stop the fighting. Hun Sen, however, doesn't want to bend. How can the two sides come together?
Hun Sen is taking his usual approach and speaking in way that works in his interest. We want any talks to be bilateral but they want tripartite talks.
If we can't talk to each other, there should be a mediator. It's not just about security, but also national pride. The two countries don't want anyone encroaching on their territory.
Both countries want peace and we must find a middle ground.
In my view, if Cambodia wants a third country to step in, we should let them, because we have nothing to fear.
With a third party involved, we should include the border area near Preah Vihear temple in the talks.
What do you make of the clashes at the Ta Kwai and Ta Muen Thom temples?
Many Cambodian people of Vietnamese descent live on the border in Trat.
Cambodian troops use guerrilla warfare, ambushing our troops.
They fire handguns, then hit us with heavy artillery attacks.
That's more the Vietnamese style of fighting. I believe the soldiers who are really in command are those troops who are descended from the Vietnamese.
The ethnic Cambodian soldiers take a lesser role.
Is there a possibility of all-out war if talks are not an option?
The question before us is, are we fighting only with Cambodia?
We're not. We're also up against Vietnam, China, Japan, Australia and South Korea which have vested interests in Cambodia.
True, these countries are also our friends. But when their interests are at stake, it's not a black and white issue. They will want to protect their interests as well.
Do you see a way out of this problem? Those most affected are the villagers near the border.
Thailand and Cambodia must make some concessions by proposing that the Phanom Dong Rak mountain range dividing the border be turned into a world heritage site, plus the 4.6 square kilometre area as well as the Ta Kwai and Ta Muen Thom temples.
The areas must be co-managed equitably by the two countries if peace is to return. Otherwise, territorial disputes will carry on endlessly.