Thailand’s parliament is set to approve the latest round of border negotiations with Cambodia, a move that could bring the neighbours closer to resolving long-standing differences over their shared boundary.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told a delegation of visiting Cambodian journalists in Bangkok that debate on the minutes of three Joint Border Committee meetings would likely open at the Thai parliament next Tuesday.
Negotiations of the bilateral JBC have been stalled since April of last year pending the Thai parliament’s approval of the latest agreements.
“We’re just hopeful that the endorsement of the agreed minutes will pave the way for the future work of the JBC, which should help address the border issues in a comprehensive manner,” Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said.
At the previous three JBC and foreign minister meetings, Thailand and Cambodia agreed to undertake joint demining and demarcation projects along the border near Preah Vihear temple, and to redeploy troops in the area in a bid to ease tensions.
At least seven soldiers have been killed in clashes in the area since 2008.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech last week that the approval of the JBC negotiations and the withdrawal of Thai troops near the temple would yield a swift resolution of the countries’ disagreements.
“If the troops are redeployed from that area, it is finished,” Hun Sen said. “We can reopen the border gate [near Preah Vihear temple] and there will be no problem.”
In August, the Thai parliament delayed a vote to approve the negotiations, prompting charges from Cambodian officials of stalling tactics.
Thani cautioned that the approval could be delayed depending on other business facing Thai legislators.
“The issue has been submitted to the parliament to add into its agenda, so it’s on the agenda, but there are a couple of other outstanding issues before we get to this particular issue,” he said.
Senior minister Var Kimhong, Cambodia’s top border negotiator, noted that such votes had been delayed several times before, and said he would wait to see the official vote before commenting on future negotiations.
“I cannot give any predictions now, but if they approve, then we will look into the issue and work together,” Var Kimhong said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith was set to return from Thailand yesterday after leading the visiting delegation of Cambodian journalists, who had audiences with Abhisit and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. With the trip, Khieu Kanharith became the first government minister to visit Thailand since bilateral relations warmed in August after the resignation of fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra from his advisory position with the Cambodian government.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Khieu Kanharith warned against allowing technical issues in the demarcation process to sour the countries’ relationship.
“We need a long-term solution to border issues,” he said.“But we should start with the personal relationships between the prime ministers, information ministers and the journalist associations.”
“We can leave border demarcation to specialists in that job, and we have a joint border commission. Do not rub salt into the wounds. Prime Minister Hun Sen agrees with this.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE