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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai FM's visit strengthens cross-border ties

Thai FM's visit strengthens cross-border ties

There should be smiles on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border as a result of

the recent Jan 31-Feb 3 visit by Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan to Siem Reap

and Phnom Penh.

Highlighting the visit was an announcement by the Thai government that 122 stolen

Angkorian artifacts would be returned to Cambodia after being displayed in Bangkok

during the month of February.

The objects were discovered in Thailand last year after having been stolen from the

Banteay Chhmar temple in western Cambodia. Their return has been caught up in an

on-going effort to link an agreement over how Thailand deals with stolen Khmer artifacts

to how Cambodia deals with ripped-off Thai cars.

The announcement comes ahead of any official agreements on stolen art or cars, but

Surin said details of agreements had been discussed and he hoped that they could

be signed when Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai visits Cambodia in the near future.

However, movement on these and other agreements reached during the visit indicate

an increased level of cooperation between the neighboring countries whose past relations

were severely strained by the civil war in Cambodia and, particularly, Thailand's

close ties with the Khmer Rouge.

"It was the most productive, substantial.... meeting I have ever presided over,"

Surin said after discussions with his counterpart Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong at

the Third Meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation.

The two foreign ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOI) on Power Sector

Cooperation which will result in the provision of electricity to heretofore energy-less

areas in Kam Rieng, Battambang, Pailin and Preah Vihear.

Longer-term, the MOI, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, envisages a more

substantial power trade between the two countries and "may lead to further trade

with a third country in the future"-an obvious reference to the potential development

of electricity sharing networks between Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Thai side also agreed to provide financial support to conduct a feasibility study

for upgrading the Poipet-Battambang-Phnom Penh railway line, with consideration of

a new line to Siem Reap, according to Surin.

"Many Thai companies are interested in a link to Siem Reap," the foreign

minister said. "There is a consortium of seven [Thai] companies interested in

this."

A rail line to Siem Reap would be a wholly new undertaking for Cambodia and would

facilitate a tourism explosion in the area.

Surin noted that over half of the 9 million visitors to Thailand would probably be

interested in seeing the temples of Angkor Wat, among other sites in the Cambodia-Burma-Lao-Thailand

region.

In Phnom Penh the two governments signed an Air Services Agreement which Surin said

would increase by 2,000 the number of seats per week allowed by both nation's carriers

for travel between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

The Thais agreed that they would continue to provide technical and human resource

training for Cambodians. This aid will be highlighted in coming months when Chuan

inaugurates the Thai-funded Baht 120 million Thai-Cambodian Skill Development Center

in Poun Phnom in the capital.

On a separate but possibly contentious bi-lateral issue, Surin said that the issue

of Sok Yoeun's arrest and detention in Bangkok did not arise in his meeting with

Nam Hong.

"Not one word," said Surin. "It is known this will go through proper

judicial channels."

As well, Surin dismissed speculation that Prime Minister Hun Sen's private visit

to Chiang Mai in December at the invitation of Thai Supreme Commander Gen Mongkol

Ampornpisit had put strains on relations between the Thai foreign ministry and the

Royal Thai Armed Forces.

"Not at all," Surin replied when asked if the trip was considered a slight

against the Chuan government. "It was regarded as a friendly exchange. As we

understand it, it was successful." Surin said that the foreign ministry had

been informed that the trip would take place and that "we didn't think anything

of it."

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