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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt urges Thai PM to review oil, gas agreement

Govt urges Thai PM to review oil, gas agreement

Govt urges Thai PM to review oil, gas agreement

1ThaiPM.jpg
1ThaiPM.jpg

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej (C), accompanied by his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen (L), greets people upon his arrival at Phnom Penh international airport on March 3.

The anticipated showdown over

access to Preah Viheah temple on Cambodia’s northern border never

materialized. Instead the first official visit by the newly elected Thai Prime

Minister Samak Sundaravej brought talks on the disputed maritime boundary to

the south which could help Cambodia’s

nascent oil and gas industry to find its feet.

Prime Minister Hun Sen asked Samak

to have the Thai government review a draft agreement proposing a 50:50 split of

the disputed offshore blocks in the Gulf

of Thailand, where both

countries believe substantial reserves of oil and gas exist, said Khieu

Kanharith, Minister of Information.

Resolving that decades-long offshore

boundary dispute is crucial to furthering economic ties between the two

countries, Hun Sen told the Thai premier during their March 3 meeting.

According to the current

draft agreement, which was concluded after discussions with the previous Thai

government, a straight line going from one side of the disputed area to the

other will be drawn and profits from extracting oil in the area will be spilt 50:50

in the central area and 75:25 in areas nearer to one country’s shoreline.

“We have requested the Thai

party consider options that we might move forward and set up a new committee to

resolve this issue as soon as possible,” Kanharith said.

He said Thailand was

urged to be more flexible to allow a “win-win situation between our two nations.”

Also during his visit, the

Thai prime minister pledged $44.3 million to rebuild National Route 68 from the

border town of O’smach

to Siem Reap province.

Preah Viheah temple

Despite having originally

been off the agenda, the two leaders discussed Cambodia’s bid to get the Khmer

temple at Preah Viheah listed at as UNESCO world heritage site.

The pre-Angkorian temple is perched

on the border of Cambodia

and Thailand

in Preah Vihear province on top of a cliff. Many tourists come from Thailand for

the day to visit the site, which has been fought over by the two countries for

decades.

Kanharith said that the Preah

Viheah application now is set to be approved in June.

“Thailand

is not against Cambodia

listing Preah Viheah on the World Heritage,” he said. “This is the official

stance of Thailand.”

The temple was denied UNESCO

status in July 2007, in part because of Thai objections that border in the area

of the temple has yet to be properly demarcated.

Both sides periodically shut

the border at moments of heightened tensions, such as in 2003 following riots

targeting Thai businesses in Phnom

Penh. The border reopened the same year as relations

improved but both the Thais and the Cambodians have closed it again at times,

usually amidst claims that the other was encroaching on their land.

Over the years both sides

have accused the other of violating an agreement which prevents either side

building roads, temples or houses within a 500-meter radius of the border.

The issue remains

controversial and on March 3 the nationalistic Student Movement for Democracy

(SMD) issued a statement demanding Hun Sen refuse to speak with Samak regarding

Preah Vihear, citing the 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia.

Kein Sara, leader of the SMD,

was briefly imprisoned in 2003 for his alleged role in the riots in Phnom Penh  when angry mobs burned the Thai embassy and

Thai businesses following remarks by a Thai actress who said that Angkor Wat

was Thai. Sara was subsequently released.

Relations

were restored when Cambodia

agreed to pay Bangkok

252 million baht ($8 million) in compensation for the damage caused to the Thai

embassy. It took the Cambodian government a year to complete the compensation

payment to the private sector in cash and kind.

Kanharith said that fresh

sources of tension between the countries – such as mounting anger over the

extra-judicial killings of Cambodian migrant workers – were also raised during

the meeting.

Cambodian border police have

reported at least a dozen shooting deaths at the hands of Thai border patrols

in the last year. The Cambodian side urged Thai local authorities on the border

to exercise caution when cracking down on illegal immigrants crossing into Thailand from Cambodia.

“Please, do not use

unnecessary violence (on the borders) because it could disturb the Cambodian

people,” Kanharith said. “Thailand

has full rights to control illegal immigrants, but Thailand should also respect human

rights.”

One recent example of

extra-judicial killings along the border occurred December 12, 2007. According

to the Asian Human Rights Commission a Thai paramilitary unit allegedly opened

fire on a party of six Cambodians gathering rattan liana in a forest on the

border of the two countries, killing one and wounding another.

The party was foraging in

“remote forest not clearly marked on the ground as part of Thailand or Cambodia,” according to the

statement.

The two parties also

discussed areas for future cooperation such as cross border trafficking of humans

and drugs and developing better transportation lines between the nations.

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