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Thai senator urges apology

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An apologetic Senator Kraisak Choonhavan in Phnom Penh.

T

HE leader of a Thai senatorial delegation that visited Phnom Penh last week declared

that Thailand should apologize for hostile acts against Cambodia during the 70s and

80s, and pledged his support for a new era of friendship and mutual co-operation

between the two countries.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Dr Kraisak Choonhavan, the Chairman of the

Thai Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reflected that "...Thailand derived

most of its culture - statecraft, art, music and dance - from the Khmer civilization."

In a major departure from the traditional Thai interpretation of its history, Senator

Kraisak said it was time to challenge what he termed the "...narrow nationalistic

view of Thai history" and develop "...our new Thai approach to history

and culture", which promotes understanding and respect for Thailand's neighbors.

Kraisak cited the three historical and archaeological research trips led by Thai

Princess Sirindhorn to Cambodia in recent years as a reflection of a growing consciousness

within Thailand of the need to study and respect Khmer civilization.

The objectives of the goodwill visit Kraisak led aimed at creating good channels

of communication "...to minimize conflicts between the two countries and consult

with the Cambodian side on disturbing issues before they blow up," he said.

The Thai senate team extended invitations to the Cambodian Senate's Foreign Relations

Commission to join them in a Thai forum on border issues to be held in Chantaburi

on April 2-3. Cambodian governors and police chiefs from border provinces are also

expected to meet with their Thai counterparts.

Senator Kraisak, son of the former Thai Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan, is well-known

in Thailand as a former academic at Kasertsart University and a strong supporter

of the pro-democracy movements during Thailand's recent history of military rule.

In wide-ranging discussions with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Foreign Affairs

Hor Namhong, the Thai senator also advocated a new approach to settling long simmering

demarcation disputes of Thai/Cambodian land and sea borders.

Kraisak proposed the formation of a co-operative partnership between Thailand and

Cambodia designed to jointly develop substantial deposits of natural gas along the

Gulf of Thailand sea border.

"This disputed area contains one of the largest gas deposits in the world at

the epicenter of the Gulf," Kraisak told the Post. "If we can come to an

agreement and drop our national obsessions, Thailand and Cambodia could jointly develop

[the area]for mutual benefit."

Pointing out that 70% of Thailand's gas requirements are already derived from deposits

in the Gulf, the Thai senator said that the joint development of the remaining gas

deposit areas would provide an invaluable boost to Cambodia's poverty alleviation

efforts.

"We are currently receiving 8 billion dollars a year in [gas] royalties,"

he said. "But [the sea border deposit] is a much larger natural gas deposit

[and] it could provide enough gas for exports and...[the revenues] could solve Cambodia's

poverty problem."

Kraisak said the agenda of the new Thaksin government will include pushing this co-development

of natural resources in the Gulf, rather than pursuing the far messier business of

maritime boundary demarcation.

Meetings between the Thai senatorial group and Cambodian leaders produced pledges

of Cambodia's full backing for the joint-partnership natural gas development approach.

Commenting on the abortive alleged coup attempt of Nov 24, 2000 by the California-based

Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), Kraisak said that the government of then-Thai Prime

Minister Chuan Leekpai had not done enough to discourage the activities of foreign

insurgency groups on Thai soil.

"The CFF everyone knew it was launched from Thailand [but] so far the Thai government

has not done enough to suppress these insurgent activities being launched from our

territory."

Kraisak pledged that his foreign relations committee would conduct hearings on the

subject in Bangkok.

Kraisak noted that Thailand's foreign policy has over the past three decades been

hostile to neighboring Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, particularly during the period

of the US war in Vietnam.

The senator recalled that Thai forces were sent to support the US war in Vietnam,

Thai mercenaries were recruited for the CIA's "Secret War" in Laos, and

Bangkok's military had supported Khmer Serei intrigues against then-Prince Norodom

Sihanouk prior to the 1970 CIA-backed military coup in Phnom Penh.

"Thailand should apologize to all Indochina countries but especially to Cambodia,"

the Thai Foreign Relations Committee Chairman said.

"Thailand allowed its territory to be used for aggression against its neighbors

by the US air force that carried out massive air strikes against all three Indochina

countries unleashing terrible devastation from B52 bombs."

During the Vietnam War ,Thailand accommodated four US air bases plus a CIA communications

center located in Udon Thani which co-ordinated and staged bombing raids on Laos,

Vietnam and Cambodia until the civilian government in Bangkok insisted on the removal

of the facilities at the end of the war in 1975.

After the defeat of the Pol Pot regime in January 1979, the Thai military's support

for the Khmer Rouge and their critical role in fueling the civil war against Phnom

Penh long after all Vietnamese troops had withdrawn in 1989. Thai support for the

KR had by the 1995 RCAF offensive against Pailin prompted strong condemnation from

both Prime Minister Hun Sen and then-Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh.

Kraisak - who served as an advisor to his father Chatichai Choonhavan's government

from 1988-91 - claimed that his father's support for a peaceful solution to the Cambodian

conflict was one of the key factors behind the Thai military coup that brought down

the Chatichai government in 1991.

"We were trying to end the military's backing for the Khmer Rouge and [advocate]

a peace agreement between Funcinpec and the CPP that excluded the Pol Pot faction,"

Kraisak said.

Thai support for the Khmer Rouge - pushed both by the Thai military and foreign ministry

- did enormous damage to Thai-Cambodian relations, and Kraisak argues it is now time

for Thailand to admit that it was a wrong policy.

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