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Thailand cites Thaksin in nixing oil agreement

091111_07
A motorbike rider fills up with fuel Tuesday at a Thai-owned PTT petrol station in Phnom Penh.

Thai cabinet backs move to scrap 2001 deal on overlapping area, claiming former PM would undermine Bangkok’s position

THE Thai cabinet moved Tuesday to cancel a memorandum of understanding agreed with Cambodia in 2001 aimed at solving overlapping claims in the Gulf of Thailand, reasoning that Thaksin Shinawatra’s appointment as an economic adviser to the Kingdom undermined Bangkok’s negotiating position.

Panitan Wattanyagorn, a Thai cabinet spokesman, told the Post Tuesday that the agreement would be cancelled “for the time being” subject to Thai parliament approval.

The cabinet decision would now head to the Thai parliament “as soon as possible”, he said, adding that it might not be passed this year due to the chamber’s full schedule up to the end of next month.

Thailand’s decision to cancel the agreement, which relates to a 26,000-square-kilometre area in the Gulf of Thailand, has been portrayed in the media as a tit-for-tat response by Bangkok to Thaksin’s appointment, as bilateral ties have become strained in recent weeks.

Panitan said Tuesday that Bangkok had a right to cancel the agreement, given that Thaksin was prime minister of Thailand when it was signed on June 18, 2001, meaning he could share his considerable knowledge on the subject with the other side – Cambodia.

Thaksin “knew extensive details of the negotiations, and now he’s on the other side of the table”, he said. “We have to protect our own interests.”
The proposal, first made at the end of last week by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the subject of discussions within the cabinet in Bangkok as well as the office of the council of state, the Thai-Cambodian Joint Border Commission and the ministry’s department of treaty and legal affairs before the decision was made, a report by the official Thai News Agency said Tuesday.

In response to the proposal Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Bangkok’s actions regarding the agreement would undermine confidence that international agreements would be respected by Thailand.

“You cancelled agreements. … Such agreements are the inheritance of states,” he said.

Proving Thailand’s point
Panitan said Tuesday that Thailand was legally within its rights to cancel the agreement on the disputed area, and that the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs would publish a full report today that would clarify and justify the decision.

“We have the right to cancel the MoU,” he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian Council of Ministers, Tuesday accused Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of playing populist internal politics – a regular charge against Thaksin prior to his ouster in a September, 2006 coup – that would ultimately only undermine the country’s position on the world stage.

“Thailand needs energy to further its economic growth,” he said, adding that Cambodia “would hold its patience” on the long dispute over the area.
Signed in 2001, the agreement established a framework for discussions on the disputed area with the aim of a joint agreement being finalised that would lead to the sharing of energy production from the zone, which is thought to be rich in fossil fuels.

Both sides have allocated blocks within the disputed area. Cambodia is in the final stages of negotiations to allocate Area III to French energy giant Total, a deal that has been long delayed. The firm’s negotiator, Jean-Paul Precigout, was not available Tuesday for comment on progress.
Te Duong Tara, director general of the Cambodia National Petroleum Authority, was also not available.

The government recently opened bidding for Area IV, also in the disputed zone. Chevron and Mitsui of Japan were reported to have made offers, although no final decision has been announced.

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