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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt optimistic over appointment of new Thai PM: Minister

Govt optimistic over appointment of new Thai PM: Minister

But civil society leaders say that Cambodia is simply wasting time negotiating with a succession of powerless Thai governments

WHILE the newly selected premier of Thailand, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, had criticised his country's ruling party for allowing Cambodia to list Preah Vihear temple as a UN World Heritage site in July, the Cambodian government insists the change will not reshape the border talks, which they say have always been rooted in past treaties and not in the personalities of the negotiators.

"The border demarcation is purely a technical problem. The PAD politicised it, not the Democrat Party," Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said, distancing the new premier's party from the mobs of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy movement that has led six months of disruptive and, at times, violent protests to oust the ruling party, and had sent protesters to the border to lay claim to Preah Vihear temple.

While he acknowledged that the new government "will have a tough time dealing with the (border) issue", he said they could not deny the existing treaties in place to support Cambodia's claims.

Union leader Rong Chhun, who has been a vocal critic of the government's hands-off approach in negotiations with Thailand over the disputed territory along the shared border, said the time to abandon bilateral talks was long overdue.

"I've requested that the government stop negotiating with the Thai government. We will just lose a lot of time trying to negotiate with the new government. The Cambodian government must send a new letter to the United Nations' International Court," he said.

He also suspected the new premier's Democrat Party of involvement in the PAD's protest against Cambodia's ownership of the 11th-century border temple, despite there being no formal links between the groups.

I've requested that the government stop negotiating with the Thai government.

But Thun Saray, the president of local rights group Adhoc and a regular commentator on social and political affairs, said without crippling resistance from PAD protesters, the new administration should prove a more able negotiating partner.

He also pointed to the newly approved Asean charter, which some say will give the bloc, often dismissed as toothless, greater clout in brokering disputes in the region. 

"Only if the new regime blocks the negotiations, then it will be time to bring the case outside Cambodia."  

Pending approval by the Thai king, which officials expect will happen in the next few days, 44-year-old Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva will become the country's third prime minister in four months.

The office of prime minister in Thailand has been a veritable rotating door this year, limiting the chance of any resolution being reached on its disputed territory with Cambodia. 

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