PRIME Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to the United Nations Security Council yesterday addressing Cambodia’s ongoing territorial dispute with Thailand, a day after his Thai counterpart reportedly threatened to use military force to settle the standoff.
On Saturday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told a rally of pro-government Yellow Shirts that he would be willing to cancel a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries in 2000 in the interest of safeguarding Thai sovereignty.
“We will cancel the MoU if the problem can’t be settled. We will use both diplomatic and military means,” The Nation newspaper quoted him as saying.
In a letter to Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s representative to the UN and the council president, Hun Sen said Abhisit’s threat had violated two articles of the UN Charter.
Thai threat of ‘military force’ labelled as charter violation
The premier said the comments were “an obvious threat” to unilaterally cancel a legal document and resort to military force to solve the border dispute that ignited after Preah Vihear temple was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2008.
Thailand and Cambodia both claim a 4.6-square-kilometre area adjacent to the temple. Phnom Penh and Bangkok signed the MoU in 2000, establishing a framework for the joint demarcation of the border.
“In the face of this serious threat of use of armed forces against Cambodia to settle the border demarcation, I earnestly request Your Excellency to circulate this letter to all members of the UN Security Council,” Hun Sen wrote in the letter, a copy of which was also sent to Ali Abdussalam Treki, the Libyan president of the UN General Assembly.
The premier reiterated Cambodia’s stance that it would not use military forces to resolve border issues with neighbouring countries, but reserved “its legitimate rights to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in case of deliberate acts of aggression”.
When asked whether Cambodia would push to have Preah Vihear placed on the council’s agenda, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the letters had been sent just “to inform” the council of the situation.
Officials at the Thai ministry of foreign affairs could not be reached late yesterday. But during a televised debate with Yellow Shirt leaders earlier in the day, Abhisit backed down, saying that the MoU was necessary for maintaining peace.
“The 2000 MoU prevents the two sides from doing anything in the disputed area, and this is why the MoU should remain in effect,” he said. He also said that the use of military force was a “last option”.
Cheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said that given Thailand’s stated opposition to multilateral talks on Preah Vihear, Hun Sen’s letter might be a way of pushing Abhisit to the negotiating table.
“Cambodia would like the Security Council to be informed, and if required take some action,” he said.
“That could put some pressure on the Thai administration, diplomatic pressure to deal with bilateral relations.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THE BANGKOK POST