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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Top negotiator doubts new sea border talks will solve dispute

Top negotiator doubts new sea border talks will solve dispute

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090128_05_2.jpg

Var Kimhong points out that 2001 working group similar to that announced Monday failed to demarcate Thai-Cambodian sea border.

Photo by:
HENG CHIVOAN

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks to reporters following a meeting with his Thai counterpart Monday.

CAMBODIA'S top border negotiator questioned Tuesday whether talks between Cambodia and Thailand regarding the countries' disputed sea border could lead to an actual agreement and official demarcation.

Following a meeting Monday between Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Hor Namhong announced that a joint technical working group charged with demarcating the sea border would be established in March at the latest. The exact date depends on when the Thai Cabinet could approve the head of its side of the group.

But Var Kimhong, Cambodia's top border negotiator, said the announcement did not amount to a major breakthrough in the dispute, as the two countries had already created a working group in 2001 in a failed attempt to settle their disagreement.

"The problem is that Thailand always changes the leader of its government, so we have to restart discussion of the issue with a new person," he said. "We are already prepared to work on this issue but we're waiting for the Thai side."

He said the Cambodian side of the working group, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, remained in place.

Thailand and Cambodia both assert claims over some 27,000 square kilometres of disputed maritime territory in the Gulf of Thailand that is believed to contain significant amounts of oil and gas reserves. An overseas subsidiary of American energy giant Chevron Corp holds a 55-percent interest in a Cambodian section of the Gulf of Thailand covering 6,278 kilometres.

A more positive take

Phay Siphan, spokesman and secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, had a more positive outlook on the announced talks, saying the two governments have previously focused almost exclusively on the land border to the detriment of maritime talks. 

He said that government officials would now begin researching the various memorandum of understanding and treaties relating to the disputed maritime territory in preparation for the talks.

In addition to the announcement of new dialogue on border issues, the foreign ministers also announced Monday an agreement to scale back the number of troops remaining from last year's escalation at the temple. 

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