Government offic-ials yesterday rejected any notion that this week’s meeting of the Cambodia-Thailand Joint Working Group had a purpose other than the implementation of the International Court of Justice-ordered troop withdrawal from the Provisional Demilitarized Zone around Preah Vihear temple.
Speaking on the sidelines of Tuesday’s ASEAN summit meeting, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told the Bangkok Post Cambodia and Thailand might not have to withdraw troops from Preah Vihear temple if the bilateral talks went well, eliminating the need for Indonesia to send observers as planned.
Lieutenant-General Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Ministry of Defence, told the Post yesterday that although the two-day meeting in Bangkok, which concluded yesterday, had not yet produced an outcome, its sole purpose was to implement the order to withdraw troops from the 17.3-square kilometre area by July 18.
“The meeting has no other meaning besides implementing the ICJ order,” Chhum Socheat said. “Anything [you hear] besides that is not the stance of Cambodia.”
Cambodia filed a complaint with the UN’s highest court following deadly border clashes near the temple in February, 2011, asking it to re-interpret its 1962 ruling on territorial claims regarding the temple and the surrounding area.
Thai Prime Minister Ying-luck Sinawatra declined to comment to the Post yesterday when asked about the JWG meeting in Thailand, saying only: “Today, we concentrated on ASEAN.”
According to the Bangkok Post, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul met with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, ass-igned by the ICJ to mediate the border dispute between the two countries, and held talks with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong as well.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that while the subject had been broached, Cambodia “cannot do anything which is contradictory to [the ICJ] order”.
Separately, Koy Kuong said yesterday that Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ung Sean and Thai Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkaew met in Phnom Penh on Sunday to discuss the possibility of a prisoner exchange that could include convicted Thai spies Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, quickly adding that the government’s position on the subject had in no way changed.
“The Cambodian stance is clear. We will do it in a package process, not individually,” Koy Kuong said.
Thai Foreign Minister Surapong had been expected to raise the prisoner exchange issue with Hor Namhong while in Phnom Penh for the ASEAN summit, but when asked about it by the Post, Surapong said, “We didn’t have time to talk about this matter,” before walking away.