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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ASEAN grapples with Thai-Cambodia dispute after issuing rebuke to Myanmar

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asian nations grappled Tuesday with the vexing issue of democracy in Myanmar and a simmering border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia ahead of a key security meeting of regional superpowers.

Thailand and Cambodia are locked in a dangerous military standoff over a piece of land near an ancient temple. Bilateral talks on Monday failed to resolve the dispute.

"What we need is for Cambodia and Thailand to really exercise their utmost restraint ... to prevent any outbreak of open conflict," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters.

There must be a "cooling off" by the two sides, said Wirajuda, who is here to attend the annual foreign ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through Thursday.

ASEAN's efforts on Myanmar also received a setback when the country's junta said pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be detained until late May 2009, rather than through the end of 2008, as had been reported earlier.

The clarification came as foreign ministers of ASEAN's remaining nine member countries on Monday "urged Myanmar to take bolder steps toward a peaceful transition to democracy in the near future."

ASEAN members usually avoid interfering in each other's domestic affairs, although that appears to be changing in a bid to give the group greater relevance.

A glimmer of hope for Suu Kyi's early release was raised on Sunday when the ministers thought they heard their Myanmar counterpart, Nyan Win, say at a dinner that the Nobel Peace laureate can be freed by December 2008.

But Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, who passed on the remarks to the media, clarified the next day that Nyan Win had been misheard, and that the detention will last until at least November 2009.

Despite ASEAN's frustrations with the junta, the regional grouping has taken the lead in calling for international aid to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Myanmar's coastal regions in May.

On Monday, it released a joint report of a disaster assessment conducted with the United Nations and the Myanmar government, which says the survivors of the cyclone need at least US$1 billion in aid over the next three years.

Wirajuda said ASEAN expects to be contacted soon by the United Nations with a request to help resolve the Thai-Cambodia dispute over an area near a temple that was recently designated a World Heritage Site.

Cambodia's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it had requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for help in resolving the border issue. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong also asked ASEAN host Singapore to form a regional inter-ministerial group to help end the crisis.

ASEAN "could not stand idly by without damaging its credibility," said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. "The situation has escalated dangerously," he said.

Also Tuesday, ASEAN ministers will meet with their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea for wider discussions on regional security. On top of the agenda is likely to be North Korea's nuclear program.

The topic will take center-stage at another meeting on the sidelines on Wednesday between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun and their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — the participants in six-party nuclear talks.

It will be the highest-level meeting in the six-country negotiations, which began in 2003 with the aim of convincing North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.

The meetings will culminate Thursday with the ASEAN Regional Forum, the premier security dialogue of Asia-Pacific between ASEAN and 16 other countries plus the European Union. It includes the United States and Russia.

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Ban asks Cambodia, Thailand to peacefully resolve temple issue

UNITED NATIONS: Expressing concern over heightening tension between Cambodia and Thailand over an ancient temple on their border, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has appealed both sides to peacefully resolve the issue.

Both countries lay claim over 4.6 square kilometres areas around the Preash Vihear Temple which was inscribed on the World Heritage List of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) earlier this month.

Hundreds of troops are facing each other raising fears of a possible flare up.

"The Secretary-General calls for restraint on both sides and hopes that this matter can be resolved peacefully and by diplomatic means in the context of the excellent relations between the two countries," Ban's spokesperson said.

The temple dates back to the 11th century and was recognised by the World Heritage Committee for "its natural situation on a promontory, with sheer cliffs overlooking a vast plain and mountain range; the quality of its architecture adapted to the natural environment and religious function of the temple; and, finally, the exceptional quality of the carved stone ornamentation of the temple."

Thailand and Cambodia had held talks yesterday on the issue but could not resolve it. Cambodia had complained to the UN Security Council Friday that Thailand had violated its sovereignty and called for UN intervention.
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Cambodia seeks U.N. help in Thai temple row

By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Cambodia has asked the United Nations Security Council for an emergency meeting to resolve a military stand-off with Thailand over an ancient temple on their border.

Phnom Penh's appeal to the world body came after bilateral talks on Monday failed to end the week-long border fracas, which regional neighbors fear could turn violent.

"In order to avoid armed confrontation, the Royal Government of Cambodia has decided to request an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to find a solution to the problem in accordance with international laws," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia were due to meet on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Singapore later on Tuesday, Thai and Cambodian sources said.

The meeting will be chaired by Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo and is in response to a letter sent to him by Cambodia's government late on Monday, asking the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to intervene to cool escalating tensions between the neighbors.

"The meeting will be held at 12 p.m. (0400 GMT) today, and will be attended by the foreign ministers from Thailand and Cambodia and will discuss the situation over the temple," a Thai diplomatic source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other ASEAN foreign ministers may also be at the meeting, an ASEAN official said.

At the heart of the dispute is a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) area around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which sits on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary and is claimed by both nations.

The 900-year-old temple was awarded to Cambodia by an international court in 1962.

The military showdown began a week ago when Thai troops moved into the disputed area after three Thai protesters were briefly detained there. Since then, both sides have sent hundreds more soldiers and heavy artillery to the border.

Cambodia has asked ASEAN to form an Inter-Ministerial Group of foreign ministers from Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos to "find a peaceful solution to the current crisis and to avoid a military confrontation between two ASEAN members".

ASEAN foreign ministers are holding their annual series of meetings first amongst themselves, then with Asia-Pacific powers culminating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which has ambitions to deal with issues such a the Thai-Cambodia spat.

Monday's talks on the Thai-Cambodia border partly bogged down over which maps should be used to settle ownership of the temple and surrounding area, officials said.
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