Nearly three months after Yingluck Shinawatra was sworn in as new Thai Prime Minister, heralding a rosy new era in relations with Cambodia, both sides are making baby steps toward resolving the long-running Preah Vihear border dispute.
Indonesian Foreign Minister and Association of South East Asian Nations chair Marty Natalegawa told reporters recently his nation was ready to send border observers to the troubled area.
The Cambodian government said it had been training 400 police expected to be deployed in the area around the Preah Vihear temple after troops have been withdrawn.
Natalegawa said the “dynamic” new Thai government had brought about a positive environment conducive to resolving the dispute, which sparked fierce clashes in February and April that left at least 28 people dead.
“So, I am waiting for both the Thai government and Cambodian governments, how they proceed to end the problem and how ASEAN can help,” Natalegawa told reporters at the 2011 Journalists Visiting Program in Indonesia on October 17.
“If the Thais and Cambodians need the observers to be sent, we are ready . . . In whatever way, we will be there to help them.”
Lieutenant General Kirt Chantharith, spokesman for Cambodia’s National Police, said yesterday a one-and-a-half month training program on national and international laws, including heritage conventions, had recently been completed by tourist, heritage and border police.
“We don’t know when we will deploy those individual officials. It is a preparation to comply with the government’s policy and the ruling of [the International Court of Justice],” he said.
“We are focused on the history of the Preah Vihear temple, culture, the territorial sovereignty and the strategy of ensuring security.”
Thai government spokeswoman Titima Chaisang said the Ministry of Interior held a meeting yesterday about an ICJ ruling handed down in July that ordered the establishment of a demilitarised zone around the 11th-century temple.
However, she said no details had been released from the closed-door meeting, the outcome of which will likely be raised at a November 8 cabinet meeting.
The decision from the United Nation’s highest court also demanded the immediate deployment of independent ASEAN observers to protect the temple from any further potential damage.
It followed an April 28 request from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government that the ICJ issue an interpretation of its 1962 decision, which granted territorial sovereignty over the Hindu temple to Cambodia.
Cambodia also requested the ICJ rule on provisional measures to safeguard the temple.
The decisions came at a low time in the neighbouring country’s relations, with Prime Minister Hun Sen later describing his dealings with then-Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva as a “nightmare”.
Since the election of Yingluck’s Pheau Thai party, relations have improved, punctuated by high-level visits to Cambodia from new Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa and Yingluck’s fugitive brother, the ousted former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
In September, government officials from both countries played a historic football match at Olympic Stadium in which Prime Minister Hun Sen scored a goal before being subbed off.
However, no significant concrete steps have yet been taken to implement the provisional demilitarised zone. General Srey Doek, military commander of division 3, which is stationed near Preah Vihear, said
he had yet to receive any order to withdraw his forces from the area.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE