TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej (C), accompanied by his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen (L), greets people upon his arrival at Phnom Penh international airport on March 3.
The anticipated showdown over
access to Preah Viheah temple on Cambodia’s northern border never
materialized. Instead the first official visit by the newly elected Thai Prime
Minister Samak Sundaravej brought talks on the disputed maritime boundary to
the south which could help Cambodia’s
nascent oil and gas industry to find its feet.
Prime Minister Hun Sen asked Samak
to have the Thai government review a draft agreement proposing a 50:50 split of
the disputed offshore blocks in the Gulf
of Thailand, where both
countries believe substantial reserves of oil and gas exist, said Khieu
Kanharith, Minister of Information.
Resolving that decades-long offshore
boundary dispute is crucial to furthering economic ties between the two
countries, Hun Sen told the Thai premier during their March 3 meeting.
According to the current
draft agreement, which was concluded after discussions with the previous Thai
government, a straight line going from one side of the disputed area to the
other will be drawn and profits from extracting oil in the area will be spilt 50:50
in the central area and 75:25 in areas nearer to one country’s shoreline.
“We have requested the Thai
party consider options that we might move forward and set up a new committee to
resolve this issue as soon as possible,” Kanharith said.
He said Thailand was
urged to be more flexible to allow a “win-win situation between our two nations.”
Also during his visit, the
Thai prime minister pledged $44.3 million to rebuild National Route 68 from the
border town of O’smach
to Siem Reap province.
Preah Viheah temple
Despite having originally
been off the agenda, the two leaders discussed Cambodia’s bid to get the Khmer
temple at Preah Viheah listed at as UNESCO world heritage site.
The pre-Angkorian temple is perched
on the border of Cambodia
in Preah Vihear province on top of a cliff. Many tourists come from Thailand for
the day to visit the site, which has been fought over by the two countries for
Kanharith said that the Preah
Viheah application now is set to be approved in June.
is not against Cambodia
listing Preah Viheah on the World Heritage,” he said. “This is the official
stance of Thailand.”
The temple was denied UNESCO
status in July 2007, in part because of Thai objections that border in the area
of the temple has yet to be properly demarcated.
Both sides periodically shut
the border at moments of heightened tensions, such as in 2003 following riots
targeting Thai businesses in Phnom
Penh. The border reopened the same year as relations
improved but both the Thais and the Cambodians have closed it again at times,
usually amidst claims that the other was encroaching on their land.
Over the years both sides
have accused the other of violating an agreement which prevents either side
building roads, temples or houses within a 500-meter radius of the border.
The issue remains
controversial and on March 3 the nationalistic Student Movement for Democracy
(SMD) issued a statement demanding Hun Sen refuse to speak with Samak regarding
Preah Vihear, citing the 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia.
Kein Sara, leader of the SMD,
was briefly imprisoned in 2003 for his alleged role in the riots in Phnom Penh when angry mobs burned the Thai embassy and
Thai businesses following remarks by a Thai actress who said that Angkor Wat
was Thai. Sara was subsequently released.
were restored when Cambodia
agreed to pay Bangkok
252 million baht ($8 million) in compensation for the damage caused to the Thai
embassy. It took the Cambodian government a year to complete the compensation
payment to the private sector in cash and kind.
Kanharith said that fresh
sources of tension between the countries – such as mounting anger over the
extra-judicial killings of Cambodian migrant workers – were also raised during
Cambodian border police have
reported at least a dozen shooting deaths at the hands of Thai border patrols
in the last year. The Cambodian side urged Thai local authorities on the border
to exercise caution when cracking down on illegal immigrants crossing into Thailand from Cambodia.
“Please, do not use
unnecessary violence (on the borders) because it could disturb the Cambodian
people,” Kanharith said. “Thailand
has full rights to control illegal immigrants, but Thailand should also respect human
One recent example of
extra-judicial killings along the border occurred December 12, 2007. According
to the Asian Human Rights Commission a Thai paramilitary unit allegedly opened
fire on a party of six Cambodians gathering rattan liana in a forest on the
border of the two countries, killing one and wounding another.
The party was foraging in
“remote forest not clearly marked on the ground as part of Thailand or Cambodia,” according to the
The two parties also
discussed areas for future cooperation such as cross border trafficking of humans
and drugs and developing better transportation lines between the nations.