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Thai observer plan welcomed

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Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks during a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport before departing for Jakarta today.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong today welcomed a Thai proposal to allow Indonesian observers to monitor a ceasefire between the two countries, following deadly border clashes close to Preah Vihear temple earlier this month.

Speaking at Phnom Penh International Airport ahead of his departure to Jakarta for ASEAN talks on the border situation, Hor Namhong said Bangkok’s willingness to allow a third party to monitor the ceasefire was in line with requests made by Cambodia at the United Nations Security Council last week.

“This is the result of our request to the UNSC asking for observers to monitor the ceasefire,” Hor Namhong said.

“Thailand’s appeal to have observers from Indonesia is an important step at the meeting in Jakarta.”

Military officials from the two sides brokered a ceasefire at the border following talks on Saturday, after a series of clashes during February 4-7 left at least 10 people dead and dozens injured on both sides.

On Sunday, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Thailand planned to invite Indonesia to send observers to “embed” with Thai soldiers at the border close to where this month’s clashes took place.

“We would ask Indonesia, chair of ASEAN, to dispatch observers to embed with the Thai troops at the border where the Thai troops clashed with Cambodian troops. The observers will be our witness that we respect the ceasefire,” The Nation newspaper quoted him as saying.

Foreign Ministers from ASEAN’s 10 member states will gather in Jakarta today to discuss the stand-off between Cambodia and Thailand.

Cambodian officials have previously said they will raise four points, including demands that Thailand sign a permanent ceasefire agreement under ASEAN auspices and that ASEAN observers be dispatched to guarantee the ceasefire.

“If there is a signing of ceasefire agreement that would be good… and if there are observers to monitor the ceasefire that would be best,” Hor Namhong said.

“I strongly believe in ASEAN. Of course, ASEAN is not a court, but ASEAN is a regional organisation that has weight on politics and economics in the region and in the world, so any decision made by ASEAN carries political weight with the international community.”

However, Bangkok continues to oppose any multilateral solution to the stand-off, which has prompted sporadic outbursts of violence since UNESCO listed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site in July 2008.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday’s meeting between military leaders did not represent a formal ceasefire deal between the two governments, The Nation reported.

Kasit was also quoted as saying that Thailand will continue to “rely on bilateral [consultations] with Cambodia”.

The apparent ceasefire has also stoked nationalist sentiment in Thailand, with one Yellow Shirt activist describing it as a “stupid deal” that disadvantaged Bangkok.

“Thailand is at a huge disadvantage as Cambodia has already seized areas surrounding Preah Vihear Temple,” Yellow Shirt spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said on Sunday, according to The Nation.

 

Isolated clash

Hor Namhong’s departure was also preceded by reports of a short outbreak of gunfire along the border in Battambang province on the weekend.

Hen Sophal, governor of Battambang’s Samlot district, said today that Cambodian and Thai troops briefly exchanged shots while patrolling along the border close to Peam Ta village.

The clash occurred when dogs accompanying a Cambodian patrol started fighting with dogs belonging to Thai soldiers, he said.

“The Thai soldiers opened fire at the Cambodian soldiers as they did not know they were Cambodian soldiers,” he said, adding that no injuries resulted.

Thai media have also reported that former UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura will visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh next week to hear the countries’ positions on the conflict.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the date of Matsuura’s visit to Cambodia had not yet been confirmed.

However, he said: “I hope that the heritage special envoy will visit the temple next week.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

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