An apologetic Senator Kraisak Choonhavan in Phnom Penh.
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
"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
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
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,"
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.