CAMBODIA has again hinted at its intention to seek international arbitration in its ongoing border dispute with Thailand, a day after Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected the idea of a multilateral solution to the 18-month-long row.
At a press conference on Monday, Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government was examining how to put the issue on the international agenda – with or without Thai support.
“Our legal experts have been studying and examining the procedures for filing a complaint to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN security council,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith restated Cambodia’s willingness to engage with Thailand both bilaterally and multilaterally in a bid to resolve the dispute, which has soured relations between the two countries.
On Sunday, Abhisit again rejected the involvement of outside mediators in the ongoing dispute.
“We’re trying to prevent the Thai-Cambodian conflict from affecting people living along the border areas of both countries by using diplomatic means while avoiding other measures,” the Bangkok Post quoted Abhisit as saying. Applications for arbitration by the ICJ, which handed Cambodia sovereignty over Preah Vihear temple in 1962, must be backed by both parties to a dispute.
Khieu Kanharith said that Thailand opposed international arbitration simply because it knew the weight of evidence was on Cambodia’s side.
“Thailand has realised that it will lose the case if it agrees to raise the border issue at the ICJ and the UN security council because we have enough evidence of the border demarcation,” he said, referring to French maps drawn in 1904 and 1907.
The border dispute dates back to July 2008, when UNESCO listed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site, triggering Thai protests and a rapid military buildup. Both countries claim a 4.6-square kilometre area adjacent to the 11th-century Angkorian temple.
Khieu Kanharith also slammed the Thai government for milking the border issue for political capital, thereby preventing a bilateral solution.
“Thailand continues to manipulate information about Preah Vihear temple to resolve its internal affairs. We don’t want Thailand to exploit border issues politically,” he said.
“The problem remains as to whether the Thai government has the goodwill to resolve the border issue or not.”
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, added that the Thais had shown “no real intention” of solving the issue in state-to-state talks. “This is why Cambodia is trying another approach,” he said.
When contacted on Monday, Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, repeated Abhisit’s claim that a multilateral solution to the border dispute was not appropriate.
“Thailand’s position remains pretty much unchanged – that the border issue should be solved bilaterally,” he said.
The two countries’ Joint Border Commission (JBC) has yielded results, but progress has been derailed by Cambodia’s appointment of fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as a government adviser in October, he said.
“That’s what the essence of the matter is.... It has made our bilateral relations a little more complicated,” he said.
One local observer said the move into an international forum such as the ICJ would be a “positive strategy” for the Cambodian government, citing the apparent lack of progress in bilateral talks. “I think this is very welcome in Cambodia,” said Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “Only the [ICJ] can bring justice and a fair resolution.”
But he warned that even if Bangkok agreed to an international settlement, the case could take up to three years to run its course, with no guarantee of bilateral tranquility in the meantime.