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Asean’s role in dispute remains uncertain


July 22, 2008

Thai-Cambodia Temple Feud:
Asean’s role in dispute remains uncertain

Cambodia on Monday accepted an offer by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to help it and neighboring Thailand resolve a military standoff along their disputed border while Bangkok wanted the issue settled bilaterally, reported Kyodo news agency.

The development came after talks between the two countries earlier in the day failed to end the tense confrontation.

In a letter sent to Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo, who is chairing an annual series of Asean ministerial meetings in Singapore this week, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong asked him to form an "Asean Inter-Ministerial Group" comprising the foreign ministers of Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos.

The group would be asked "to help find a peaceful solution to the current crisis and to avoid military confrontation between two Asean members," Hor Namhong said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Kyodo News.

He complained that Thai troops, artillery and tanks "are building up along the border, constituting a very serious threat not only to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia but also to peace and stability in our region."

Meanwhile, Thai deputy Prime Minister Sahas Bunditkul said Thailand wants to settle the issue bilaterally.

Thailand Hote

Speaking to reporters after the Asean ministerial meeting, Sahas said he understands the goodwill of Asean members in offering to resolve the border standoff with Cambodia. But he added Thailand wants to handle the matter bilaterally.

"I will show you an example. If A and B have a conflict, they probably want to resolve by themselves. A and B have to talk and it will take time to resolve the problem. It's not possible to set deadline only one day and then let another hand to mediate", he said.

The Cambodian letter comes after Asean foreign ministers on Sunday issued a joint statement urging Cambodia and Thailand "to exercise utmost restraint and resolve this issue amicably, in the spirit of Asean solidarity and good neighborliness."

They said Asean would place its facilities at the two countries' disposal "in the event that they felt the need for further support to find an early resolution to the issue."

The ministers also expressed hope that Cambodia and Thailand could find a way to resolve the issue between themselves at a special session of their General Border Committee.

But that meeting, which was held Monday in the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet involving Cambodian Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh and Thai Supreme Commander Gen.

Boonsrang Niumpradit, ended after some 8 hours with only pledges to refrain from violence and avert armed confrontations.

Boonsrang admitted to reporters the two sides were unable to come up with "proper" recommendations to make to their respective governments.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters Monday that he had proposed in Singapore that a "contact group" be set up by Asean "to facilitate their talks over the dispute if the two sides fail to find solutions in their border meeting."

"I'm afraid that if we don't manage this issue well, it will affect the political stability in this region. So there is a need to deal with this issue seriously," he added.

He said Asean was "uncomfortable" that Cambodia last week approached the UN Security Council on the matter, claiming Thai soldiers have been encroaching on its territory since last Tuesday in the vicinity of the Preah Vihear temple, which has been at the center of a bitter 50-year bilateral dispute.

The ancient cliff-top temple was earlier this month inscribed as a World Heritage site, capping seven years of efforts by Phnom Penh over Bangkok's objections.

Thailand had occupied the area from 1949 when Cambodia was a French protectorate, but Cambodia won possession of the temple through an International Court of Justice ruling in 1962.

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