Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict – A Stir in ASEAN Relations
It is not very often that I would conduct a press conference. However, I have the need to inform all of you on a number of issues relating to the border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia. It is known to everyone that the conflict has troubled ASEAN and caused a challenge to the move for an established community of ASEAN in 2015. It should be noted that the ASEAN rotating chair, in spirit of the ASEAN family, has made efforts (to help resolve the problem) since February 22, when the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN met and agreed on sending Indonesian observers to areas of impacts in Thailand and Cambodia.
While giving utmost consideration to prevent new conflict, Cambodia has always exercised its responsibility and responded in a timely manner to the Term of References (TOR) as is proposed by Indonesia. In light of the latest agreement on the setup, Cambodia has taken further step to give its signature on the Letter of Acceptance, which defines the role and mandate of the observers as well as tasks to be fulfilled by hosting countries – Thailand and Cambodia.
As you all are aware that Thailand has not yet given its signature on the Letter of Acceptance while created further condition by demanding Cambodia to withdraw troops from the area that is in fact Cambodian own territory. The Cambodian foreign minister has rejected the condition that we cannot withdraw its troops out of the territory that belongs to Cambodia. That has led, as you may have noticed, to a tense situation in the Summit. Cambodia has indeed raised the issue not for worsening conflict but for solving it.
With understanding and care expressed by regional colleagues, especially from the President of the Republic of Indonesia, who is also rotating chair of ASEAN, this morning we have a meeting that eventually led to some compromises on a number of issues. It is indeed a rare opportunity for us to be meeting trilaterally where Thailand and Cambodia are working in the presence of the ASEAN Chair and President of Indonesia. It was not just a discussion between Thailand and Cambodia. We also had inputs and reconciling recommendations from the President of Indonesia too.
In acceptance of the recommendation by the ASEAN Chair and President of Indonesia, the two sides have agreed to let the foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia to continue to work for one more day under the coordination of their counterpart – foreign minister of Indonesia. This is nothing less than recommendation from the ASEAN Chair, or the third party, for us to search for solution to the conflict.
The continuing session is necessary because Thailand has not yet given signature in approval of the TOR to start dispatching Indonesian observers (to areas of impacts). It was Thai position to hold the General Border Committee’s (GBC) meeting before giving its signature to the TOR. It was Cambodian position to have Indonesian observers dispatched to impact areas in Thailand and Cambodia before holding the GBC meeting. In order to resolve the differences this morning I have accepted compromise for signing the TOR without having had to immediately send Indonesian observers to areas of impacts, while the GBC can hold its meeting.
HE Hor Namhong, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Cambodia, is ready to discuss with his Thai and Indonesian counterparts in the meeting in which a communique will be issued after the signing of the TOR with follow-up negotiation could be conducted an hour or a day after. What we see here is that the conflict area of Preah Vihear temple, after it was passed back to ASEAN by the UN Security Council to coordinate the solution, has now been facilitated by Indonesia, who is the ASEAN Chair. It is to everyone’s knowledge that the TOR on Indonesian observers has been developed since February 22, and having been revised seven times, demands neither for withdrawal of Cambodian forces and/or people from (its territory) nor holding GBC/JBC meetings prior to the TOR signing too.
I would like to clarify Cambodian position in relation to the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is of two aspects. One is the dispute at the Preah Vihear temple where there was a large-scale war last February. As far as this aspect is concerned, any negotiation with regard to the area must be conducted with the presence of ASEAN, who has been mandated by the UN Security Council. Secondly, as to disputes anywhere else on (other parts of) the border such as that in areas of Ta Moan and Ta Krobei temples, about 100 Km from the temple of Preah Vihear, bilateral negotiation can be upheld.
This morning I told Prime Minister Abhisit (of Thailand) and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia that Cambodia does not rule out all bilateral negotiation mechanisms but where there is the mandate from the UN Security Council, ASEAN must be involved.
It is my conclusion that despite condition set by concerned parties, I have observed a general trend among ASEAN member states and friends, Cambodia and Thailand included, that we all want to work for detente and evasion of armed conflict, while seeking for solution to all related problems by peaceful means. Neither Cambodia or Thailand nor ASEAN member countries are interested in having conflict and are committed to resolve them peacefully, by negotiation and with the involvement of the ASEAN Chair, as well as existing mechanism.
I am here not to wage a war of words but to clarify to you all that the situation has evolved for a settlement. Though it is impossible to predict its outcome, you also agree with me that negotiation is a difficult task but it is still better than waging war that kills and destroys people’s lives and properties. I would like to take this opportune moment to thank my ASEAN colleagues, especially Indonesia, for playing active role in coordinating the problem we have presented./.