The Thai Foreign Ministry has denied reports that senior Thai military leaders have backed out of attending a proposed meeting with Cambodian officials in Indonesia next month aimed at resolving the countries’ ongoing border dispute.
The Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday that Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon had decided not to attend the meeting because they believed the border dispute with Cambodia should only be settled in a bilateral forum.
“We won’t go. We don’t want the meeting to be held in a third country,” Prayuth was quoted as saying.
“Soldiers of the two countries are very close to each other. Talks should be between soldiers of the two countries only, and a third party should not be involved.”
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said on Tuesday evening that he was still in the process of “verifying the report” and could not comment further. Yesterday, however, he said the article in question “appears to be a misquote”.
“We verified the report with the Ministry of Defence and the army,” Thani said. “The report that came out was premature.”
“The Thai General Border Committee is still in discussions with the Cambodian side about the details of the meeting,” he added.
The proposed talks, scheduled to be held in Indonesia on April 7-8, follow four days of fighting between the two sides in early February along the border near Preah Vihear temple that left at least ten people dead, dozens injured and thousands of civilians displaced.
Earlier this month, Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva reportedly expressed support for the talks in Indonesia, which Cambodian officials had already agreed to attend.
Yesterday, Thailand’s MCOT state news agency reported that Prayuth had expressed reservations about delegations of unarmed Indonesian military observers that Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to host on their respective sides of the border. Prayuth reportedly said the observers should not be allowed to enter a stretch of territory near Preah Vihear temple that is claimed by both sides.
“If the observers will really enter at the borders, I don’t want them to enter the disputed area, as it’s a dangerous zone and will make it more difficult to solve the conflict,” Prayuth was quoted as saying.
Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Thai officials are wary of third party involvement because they do not want outsiders to see their “bad tricks”.
“They don’t want to resolve the dispute peacefully,” Koy Kuong said. “They want to talk bilaterally because they want to use their military to threaten Cambodia.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE