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ASEAN ANALYSIS  17  August 2010

Thai-Cambodian border dispute

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   17 August 2010

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It seems as though it is a never-ending dispute between Thailand and Cambodia involving 4.6 kilometers of border land that includes an ancient Hindu temple called Preah Vihear.

The site became significant when UNESCO placed it on its list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in July 2008. The heart of the problem is that the boundary between the two Asean neighbors has never been clearly defined and so the ownership of the temple remains disputed.

Since 2008 there have been military face-offs in the disputed area with shots fired. Military units from each country still face each other in the border area. Nationalistic groups in Thailand have staged public demonstrations over the issue.

There also have been attacks in the past on Thai businesses and the Thai diplomatic legation in Phnom Penh during the last decade.

Thailand is making a push for bilateral talks on the issue employing the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) including the two countries 2000 memorandum of understanding on demarcating the border.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, himself a Thai, paid a visit to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at his Phnom Penh villa yesterday. After a 30-minute meeting with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong the secretary general called for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

Earlier Hor Namhong wrote to current ASEAN chair Vietnam, proposing that the 10-member bloc mediate in the border conflict in order to avoid “large-scale armed conflict”.

Thailand, however, feels the bilateral approach is best. A spokesman for Hun Sen welcomed the recent Thai initiative to submit the results of previous JBC meetings to the Thai Parliament for approval and this may prove to be an avenue for a way out of the ongoing disagreement.

However, this contentious dispute has been such a volatile issue for such a long time that it is impossible to predict when, how or if the dispute will be resolved.

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