Prime Minister Hun Sen met yesterday with Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva for the first time since deadly fighting broke out on the Thai-Cambodian border last month, though the two countries appear no closer to resolving their long-standing boundary dispute.
The leaders, meeting at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta, were joined by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who attempted to mediate. Indonesia currently holds the chair of ASEAN and has held talks with officials from both countries over the past few months in an attempt to resolve the conflict.
At a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in February, following clashes between Thailand and Cambodia near Preah Vihear temple, Indonesia proposed sending teams of unarmed military observers to the border area to ensure that a ceasefire would hold.
Thailand has since been reluctant to finalise the proposal, and Abhisit reportedly called yesterday for a meeting of the bilateral Joint Border Committee before the arrangement moves ahead.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told the Bangkok Post following the meeting yesterday that the talks focused on “peacefully ending the border conflict, encouraging Cambodia to return for talks and refraining from using force in settling the border dispute”.
Speaking at a press conference in Jakarta following the meeting with Abhisit and Yudhoyono, Hun Sen said negotiations to put the observers in place had been held up by Thailand’s JBC proposal.
“Cambodian and Thailand don’t have to be in conflict with one another, and our ASEAN friends don’t want to have this conflict, so we want to resolve the conflict by negotiations, with support from the ASEAN chair,” Hun Sen said.
“I am not here to wage a war of words. I just want to reaffirm that we are trying to resolve the matter, but the solution we want has not been reached.”
However, despite these diplomatic words, the premier created a stir at the opening of the summit on Saturday, offering harsh criticism of Thailand and Abhisit before heads of state of the 10-member regional bloc.
Hun Sen blasted Thailand for not agreeing to the terms of reference for the Indonesian observers, and for demanding that Cambodia withdraw its troops from Preah Vihear temple before the scheme moves ahead.
“Thailand requires Cambodia to withdraw her troops and population from her own territory, the territory that has been under the sovereignty and effective control of Cambodia,” Hun Sen said. “This condition is irrational and unacceptable.”
Philippine presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang told the Agence France-Presse news agency following the meeting that those in attendance had been “surprised” at the ferocity of Hun Sen’s rhetoric.
“We were surprised, many people were surprised that the Cambodian side brought it up and it took quite a bit of their time,” Carandang said.
“It became a little dramatic, but I think that’s just the way that Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers speeches.”
In a speech of his own on the first day of the summit, Abhisit said he was “disappointed” by Hun Sen’s accusation that Thailand had fomented conflict along the border.
“Thailand has no intention whatsoever to have conflicts,” Abhisit said, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the Thai Foreign Ministry. He added: “We cannot help but notice that there is a clear attempt by Cambodia to internationalise the issue.”
Cambodia has appealed in recent months both to ASEAN and the United Nations Security Council for assistance in resolving the conflict. Thailand continues to oppose these efforts, favouring bilateral discussions.
ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan admitted last week that the conflict had become “embarrassing” for ASEAN, which hopes to achieve a political and economic community on the model of the European Union by 2015. Some 10 people were killed in clashes near Preah Vihear in February, while at least 18 died in fighting along the border near Oddar Meanchey province that began on April 22 and stretched for 11 days.
Reurn Heng, a Cambodian soldier based near Ta Moan temple in Oddar Meanchey, said the border remained quiet yesterday.