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Doubts cast on border observer agreement

Doubts cast on border observer agreement

borderwar_by_sovan_Philong

PHOTO: SOVAN PHILONG

 

IT seemed too good to be true.

Just days after announcing an agreement that would send teams of Indonesia military observers, Cambodia and Thailand are once again trading recriminations over their disputed border and putting the observer arrangement in doubt.

On Monday, Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong met with Thai FM Kasit Piromya following a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta in an attempt to finalise the terms of the observers’ deployment. The men were joined by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has attempted to mediate the dispute since clashes first broke out along the border in February near Preah Vihear temple.

Following the meeting, Natalegawa told reporters that the agreement had “exceeded my expectations”, praising the two countries for overcoming their differences. Yesterday, however, it appeared that they were back where they started.

Speaking to journalists in Bangkok, Kasit reportedly said Cambodia must withdraw its troops from territory adjacent to Preah Vihear that is claimed by both sides before the observers can be deployed.

"If [Cambodia] refuses to withdraw, the observers can't come," Kasit said, according to the Bangkok Post.

Kasit’s comments echoed calls made by the Thai military in recent weeks as the two sides continued to bicker over the observer arrangement. At the ASEAN summit in Jakarta on Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen blasted this demand, saying it was “irrational and unacceptable” for a foreign country to demand the withdrawal of troops from what Cambodia sees as its territory.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong reiterated this stance yesterday, accusing Thailand of sabotaging this week’s agreement.

“We cannot do that. We will not allow any foreign country to oust Cambodian people from Cambodian territory,” he said. “This shows the unfaithfulness of the current Thai leadership, which is why we cannot trust them.”

The International Court of Justice in The Hague is set to convene a hearing later this month in a case brought by Cambodia requesting that the court reinterpret its 1962 judgment that awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia. Cambodia has asked the court to also make a determination on the sovereignty of the territory surrounding the temple, and in the interim, to order Thai troops to withdraw from the area.

Cambodia and Thailand originally agreed on the observer proposal during a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in February that followed deadly clashes near Preah Vihear. The Thai military later backed out of the deal, however, and last month, fighting broke out along the border near Oddar Meanchey province that stretched for 11 days and left 18 people dead.

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