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Ministers agree on observers

Ministers agree on observers

CAMBODIA and Thailand have finally hammered out an agreement to allow teams of Indonesian military observers to be dispatched along their shared border, after deadly fighting between the two countries broke out once again last month.

Following clashes in February near Preah Vihear temple, Cambodia and Thailand agreed to allow the Indonesian teams to be dispatched on either side of the border. The Thai military later backed out of the deal, however, and last month, fighting broke out again, this time along the border near Oddar Meanchey province.

Leaders of both countries attended a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta at the weekend, and at a meeting on Monday afternoon following the summit’s conclusion, their foreign ministers finalised an agreement on the observers’ presence.

“The meeting aimed to find a peaceful solution and avoid further armed conflicts,” Hor Namhong said following the meeting in an interview broadcast by the Cambodian Television Network. “Each side will ask its respective government to approve this proposal as soon as possible.”

Among the six points of the agreement, he said, is a stipulation that Thailand must accept the presence of the observers in the disputed territory near Preah Vihear, and that the approval of the observers’ terms of reference come in conjunction with the scheduling of meetings for the bilateral Joint Border Committee and General Border Committee.

Following his return from Jakarta yesterday, Hor Namhong told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport that the dissolution of the Thai parliament this week would not affect the agreement.

“Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will ask his cabinet to approve the six-point

agreement package by Tuesday of next week,” he said.

Thai officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, though The Bangkok Post quoted Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon as saying that Cambodia must withdraw its troops from the area surrounding Preah Vihear ahead of the observers’ arrival.

Indonesia currently holds the chair of ASEAN, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa mediated at the meeting on Monday. Afterwards, he reportedly praised the countries for coming to an agreement.

“The achievement this afternoon exceeded my expectations,” The Bangkok Post quoted him as saying. “I’m not underestimating the scale of the problem, but they have overcome their mutually exclusive demands.”

But despite the diplomatic breakthrough, tensions remain along the border. Yesterday, The Bangkok Post said the Thai Army had ordered a halt of all fuel exports to Cambodia “and other products the Cambodian military may need to support their troops in operations against Thai forces”.

Cambodian Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat dismissed the move, saying Cambodia has “never imported any products from Thailand for use within the Cambodian military”.

“We’re not concerned about this ban and it will not impact us at all,” he said.


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