Thai Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha (left) and Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh share a laugh yesterday at a meeting in Phnom Penh. Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
CAMBODIA and Thailand agreed to a key step in the resolution of the Preah Vihear border dispute – the redeployment of troops stationed in the contested area – on the final day of the General Border Committee yesterday.
But no timetable was set for the two sides to withdraw troops from a Provisional Demilitarised Zone established around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple by an International Court of Justice ruling in July.
Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh told reporters after the meeting that both countries had agreed to implement the ICJ decision – which also orders the deployment of independent border observers from Indonesia, the current ASEAN chair, into the PDZ.
“Therefore, there should be no obstacles, and I would like to confirm that the process will work with the participation of Indonesian, Cambodian and Thai observers,” he said, but added that neither side knew yet exactly how many troops would have to be withdrawn.
The two sides had agreed to establish a Joint Working Group to immediately facilitate the complete and simultaneous redeployment of all troops within the 17.5km PDZ, Tea Banh said.
The JWG will comprise representatives designated by both countries and convene a meeting at the earliest possible time, a joint statement released after yesterday’s GBC said.
Tea Banh’s Thai counterpart, Yuthasak Sasiprapha, said both sides had agreed to redeploy troops “as soon as possible”, but stressed this could not happen until Thailand’s Council of Ministers and National Assembly adopted the GBC agreement. “We were in deep discussions over the issues of [redeployment of troops] in order to ensure that the implementation of the ICJ must be transparent between the two countries,” he said.
Once the GBC agreement was cleared through the Thai parliament, the two countries would “immediately set up an actual time frame for redeployment of troops”, he said.
The July 18 ICJ decision followed a request from the Cambodian government in April that the court issue an interpretation of its 1962 ruling on the dispute, which awarded the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia.
The decision was partially intended to protect the temple, which was damaged after fierce clashes broke out between the two countries in February and April that left at least 28 people dead and tens of thousands temporarily displaced.
Sour relations after the fighting began to improve in June this year when Yingluck Shinawatra defeated Abhisit Vejjajiva in Thailand’s national election, ending what Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen later described as a “nightmare” period of relations.