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Thailand puts off approval of border talks

THE Thai government has delayed a parliamentary session to approve the latest round of border demarcation agreements with Cambodia, a move Cambodian officials said was part of a long-running strategy of putting off negotiations.

A report from Thai state media yesterday said a parliamentary vote to approve the three most recent sessions of Thailand and Cambodia’s Joint Border Committee, established under a 2000 Memorandum of Understanding, had been postponed because the legislature’s agenda was already full. Border demarcation talks through the JBC have been stalled since April of last year pending Thai parliament approval of the latest negotiations.

“This is not a surprise to me,” said senior minister Var Kimhong, Cambodia’s chief border negotiator. “I don’t really care about this matter anymore because I’ve learned that this is the habit of the Thai party.”

Cambodia called for assistance from the UN and ASEAN last week in reviving the stalled border negotiations with Thailand, with Prime Minister Hun Sen warning that the current stalemate could lead to “bloodshed”. Thai officials have said they are opposed to negotiations in a multilateral forum and prefer the bilateral JBC.

Tension has been high between the two countries since the conclusion earlier this month of a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting at which Cambodian representatives submitted a management plan for Preah Vihear temple, inscribed as a World Heritage site in 2008. The management plan will be discussed at a meeting of the committee in Bahrain next year.

Thai officials who have supported further border negotiations have received criticism from the members of the ultranationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy, also known as the Yellow Shirts, which charges that the JBC meetings could lead to the “loss” of Thai territories along the border.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that if Thai officials were truly committed to bilateral talks, they would move more quickly to secure parliamentary approval of the JBC negotiations.

“Our patience with bilateral talks has ended, so we are seeking a multilateral way,” Koy Kuong said.

“Thailand insists on bilateral talks, but the documents have yet to be processed,” he said.

“They cannot use the JBC to play with Cambodia in this way.”

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