Today, the United Nations Security Council will convene on the request of Cambodia to discuss the Thai-Cambodian issue. While this meeting is doubtlessly a victory for Cambodian diplomacy, the only question that matters for the Cambodian people is: will it help achieve a lasting solution?
To everyone, the Thai-Cambodian issue seems to be a simple border conflict as reported worldwide by the media and as Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa stated, “it is a common border dispute like many others among ASEAN countries”. Because of this perception of the problem, the French Foreign Ministry offered France’s help by providing the maps annexed to the 1907 Franco-Siamese Treaty that delimited the frontiers between Siam and Cambodia. The offer was swiftly turned down by the Thai government.
This dismissal clearly shows that, from the Thai point of view, the conflict is not a matter of border demarcation. Over the last two years, Cambodian diplomacy unsuccessfully and hopelessly tried to have the Thai side accept those maps drawn between 1904 and 1908 as the basis for their border negotiations as they constitute the only legal internationally recognised documents about the Thai-Cambodian border.
The Thai dismissal of these maps has to be understood as a blunt rebuff of the June 15, 1962, judgement of the International Court of Justice of the Hague, as the ruling was entirely based on the formal recognition of the Franco-Siamese maps that were annexed to the ruling.
This far, the Thai stance has obviously been to arrogantly and unilaterally wipe out any legal frameworks.
So, what will the UN Security Council meeting be about? The widely expected outcome of the meeting is a resolution merely calling on both parties to peacefully settle their dispute. If it were so, then the meeting would be useless as it would only provide another legal framework to be turned down by Thailand and leave Cambodia prey to its power politics.
For the UNSC has to consider, not only the armed confrontation between the two countries, but, what is more important, the bellicose declarations that were made by Thai leaders that are the roots of the conflict. On June 25, 2008, when he was then an opposition leader, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva unequivocally said that “Thailand had never accepted the map that Cambodia presented to the World Court in 1962”. He also added that “Thailand intended to seek the return of Preah Vihear when the opportunity arose”.
The question is: By what means? The answer was bluntly given on February, 9, 2011, by street opposition leader Sondhi Limthongkul when he urged the Thai military “to seize Cambodian territory, including Angkor Wat, to barter for Preah Vihear Temple”. Democrat-led Thailand clearly chose to become an international outlaw.
Then, to be successful, the UNSC meeting has to be a first step towards finding a lasting solution that is, to begin with, to protect Cambodia, not from small clashes, but from a large scale open conflict as the far superiorly equipped Thai military is building up along the 800-kilometre border between the two countries.
The key problem – and the trickiest one – to be regarded by the UNSC is surely the reliability and the relevance of an international outlaw Thai government that does not even care to pretend to abide by its own obligations. In this respect, how can the current street-led Thai government be considered a trustworthy party to any negotiation?
Without a reliable negotiation partner, Cambodia needs international protection, the same as she needed during the reign of Pol Pot and that was then denied to her. It is to be hoped that this time, the international community would have learned the lesson and not pretend to give justice to Cambodia and to the Cambodian people 30 years later.
Sisowath Thomico is the Private Secretary of His Majesty the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk.