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Border observers demanded

Border observers demanded

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Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks to reporters yesterday after returning to Cambodia from The Hague.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong called yesterday for the deployment of Indonesian observers to the demilitarised zone along the Thai-Cambodian border near Preah Vihear temple that was established by the International Court of Justice this week.

Arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday after attending the announcement of the ICJ decision in The Hague earlier this week, Hor Namhong said the oft-delayed observer proposal could wait no longer.

“I made a phone call to the Indonesian foreign minister before departure [from The Hague on Tuesday] and said it is time to immediately dispatch the observers, with or without the agreement of Thailand,” Hor Namhong said.

Following military clashes near Preah Vihear in February that killed at least 10 people, Cambodia and Thailand agreed to accept teams of unarmed Indonesian observers who were to be stationed at the border to monitor the fragile ceasefire in the area. The plan has since been held up by the Thai military, however.

In its ruling Monday, the ICJ called for an “immediate” withdrawal of both Thai and Cambodian troops stationed near the temple and in the surrounding area. The court’s ruling was a provisional measure ahead of a reinterpretation of its 1962 judgment that awarded sovereignty over Preah Vihear to Cambodia.

Cambodia requested earlier this year that the ICJ revisit the 1962 judgment to explain how it bears on the territory surrounding the temple, a process that could take years.

Ahead of any withdrawal of troops, the Thai government has called for bilateral talks between the two sides.

Cambodia has rejected this proposal, and with the current Thai government of Abhisit Vejjajiva now on the way out after losing in elections earlier this month, Hor Namhong said yesterday that Cambodia would wait for the new government to take power before conducting any further negotiations.

Any withdrawal of troops by Cambodia, he added, would come only after the arrival of the Indonesian observers.

Michael Tene, spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday that Jakarta was still in talks with both sides on the observers’ deployment.

“We will continue to consult with all parties on the next step forward, but I cannot give you any timeline,” he said. “Thailand and Cambodia will need time to absorb the various implications of the court order; Indonesia as well.”

Tene noted that the ICJ decision on Monday had endorsed the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), currently chaired by Indonesia, in mediating in the dispute.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that Abhisit had directed Thai officials to confer with Indonesia on the observers’ deployment but said he had no further details, adding that the new government in Bangkok would be responsible for implementing the arrangement. That government is expected to take power in a few weeks.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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