Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Officials reject Thai group's claims over French oil deal

Officials reject Thai group's claims over French oil deal

Officials reject Thai group's claims over French oil deal

But protests highlight the challenges of drilling for oil in disputed areas.

CAMBODIAN officials have dismissed Thai protesters' claims that a recent oil exploration agreement between Cambodia and French oil giant Total is a violation of Thai sovereignty, saying Cambodia has the right to award exploration rights inside the Gulf of Thailand's 27,000-square-kilometre overlapping claims area (OCA).

During Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to France last month, officials announced an agreement offering Total the exploration rights to a 2,430-square-kilometre block - known as Area III - that sits inside the OCA.

According to Thai media reports, the People's Assembly of Thailand (PAT), a nationalist advocacy group, wrote to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Thursday to criticise the government and the armed forces for not taking action to head off the deal, which they said infringes on Thai territory.

A copy of the letter was also reportedly sent to the French Embassy in Bangkok.

Var Kimhong, Cambodia's top border negotiator, said he had not seen the Thai letter, but that Cambodia had the right to award exploration rights as it saw fit.

"The Thai authorities have nothing to do with the block we have given to Total," he said. "It is under Cambodian sovereignty."

However, the letter raises questions about future exploration of the OCA, including Area III. Bangkok has also allocated the zone, which it refers to as B10 and B11, to US oil company Chevron and Japan's Mitsui.

Jean-Pierre Labbe, general manager of Total EP Cambodge, told the Post in July that Total would sign a 10-year conditional petroleum agreement for Area III, the terms of which would prevent the company from undertaking any explorations until a resolution was reached with Thailand over the ownership of the zone.

On Thursday, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Vimol Kidchop said similarly that any company operating inside the OCA would "not be allowed to explore or develop petroleum resources ... unless Thailand and Cambodia successfully resolve the dispute".

Joint development?
Past cases may offer a way forward with the OCA. In 2000, the governments of Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe signed an agreement for the joint development of a disputed 35,000-square-kilometre maritime zone after failing to reach an agreement on border delimitation.

According to a paper presented at an International Oil and Gas Conference, held in Cambodia in March 2008, the two countries "agreed to work together to develop the area and to benefit from any oil or gas discoveries that are made".

Labbe said he expected some form of joint development agreement would be required between Cambodia and Thailand, rather than a strict geographical division of the OCA. But he said it was unclear whether the countries would be able to reach such an agreement.

Thitinan Ponsudhirak, a political analyst at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, described the issue as a "follow-on" to the standoff over Preah Vihear temple and said that the dispute was unlikely to be resolved soon.

"[The OCA issue] is held hostage to Thai-Cambodian relations, and Thai-Cambodian relations are rocky at the moment," he said by phone.

Labbe said negotiations between the two countries had been set back by the coup that removed former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, but he remained optimistic that the OCA issue would soon be resolved.

"Every time there is a meeting... they discuss the issue positively," he said last month.



  • Protests planned in New York as Hun Sen to attend the UN

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. But US-based supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) plan to throw eggs at his car as part of a series of protests to coincide

  • CPP: ‘Behave or Sokha suffers’

    The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman warned Kem Monovithya on Thursday that her attempt to damage “national reputation and prestige” would lead to her father, Kem Sokha, receiving even harsher punishment. Sok Eysan issued the warning as Monovithya, who is the court dissolved

  • News Analysis: Defiance can last for how long?

    The Cambodian government has so far stood strong in the face of mounting international pressure over its treatment of critics, but analysts, diplomats and ruling party officials now wonder how long the defiance can last. The European Union has led the firestorm of criticism, threatening

  • ‘Freedom fighters’ or ‘foreign puppets?’

    Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official Meach Sovannara was joined by supporters at a rally in California on Saturday, where a US lawmaker hailed members of the outlawed opposition as “great freedom fighters”. However, a Cambodian government spokesman said such a phrase belonged to