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S'pore minister says Asean can help solve Preah Vihear dispute

Asean secretary general says if the bloc is asked to help with the crisis, he will send a fact-finding mission to the disputed area.

DIALOGUE MATTERS

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said it was good that both sides had now chosen to talk to resolve the border issue. " [Cambodia and Thailand] are now finding ways to reduce tension between themselves through this bilateral arrangement."

SINGAPORE's foreign minister said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations stands ready to help Cambodia and Thailand resolve their long-running border dispute. George Yeo said the 10-member bloc remained concerned at tensions over the 800 kilometres of disputed border.

"Our concern is when these disputes escalate and erupt into violence, which was what happened in Preah Vihear last year," Yeo said, speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore last week. "Right now, both sides are talking [but] I know Cambodia is not happy with the speed of progress."

"If Cambodia is aggrieved and wants to [refer the border issue] to Asean, Cambodia can do so," Yeo continued. He said border disputes were common, both between Asean members and around the world, and were best resolved through negotiations.

Troops from the two Asean member states clashed last year at the Preah Vihear temple complex amid escalating tensions that left several soldiers dead.

Both sides are talking [but] ... Cambodia is not happy with the speed of progress.

One of Asean's founding principles is respect for the territorial integrity of all member states. Article 2 of the Asean Charter states that member states must "respect ... the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all Asean member states" and push for the "peaceful settlement of disputes".
Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said if the regional body was asked to help resolve the issue, he would first send a fact-finding mission to the disputed area. But, he said, indications were that bilateral negotiations between the two nations seemed to be going well

Summit sidelines

Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed Tuesday that he would attend the 14th Asean summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, and would meet bilaterally with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on February 27.

Hun Sen said the talks with his Thai counterpart would tackle more than simply the border dispute - they would also cover tourism, economic issues, investment and improved trade cooperation.

"The situation is now calming down between both sides," Surin Pitsuwan told a group of journalists touring Southeast Asia February 12. "[The two countries' leaders] will meet each other again during the 14th Asean summit, and I am sure both sides will discuss this further in the lobbies set aside for this kind of discussion."

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