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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thailand non-committal to joining proposed border meeting with Cambodia: FM

By Sinfah Tunsarawuth

BANGKOK, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Thailand has been non-committal to joining meetings with Cambodia later this month as proposed by Indonesia to discuss the two countries' border dispute, according to a Thai Foreign Ministry statement.

Meanwhile, the nationalistic "yellow-shirt" People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on Thursday submitted a letter to the Indonesian ambassador in Bangkok in protesting against a planned Indonesian observer mission to the Thai-Cambodian disputed border.

PAD said in the letter that the coming of the Indonesian observers would amount to "a foreign military operation to control Thai military operations defending Thai sovereignty, which has been deliberately violated by Cambodia."

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the current ASEAN chair, has proposed that Thailand and Cambodia meet later this month to solve their border dispute under the existing General Border Committee (GBC), co-chaired by the defense ministers of both nations, and separately under Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC), co-chaired by the two countries' senior officials, according to media reports.

Natalegawa made the proposal in a letter sent on Wednesday to Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and other ASEAN foreign ministers. The GBC and JBC meetings were proposed on March 24-25 in Bogor, Indonesia.

Natalegawa also said in the letter that Cambodia has responded positively to the Terms of Reference (TOR) in sending the Indonesian observers.

"I am looking forward to hearing positive responses from Thailand," he was quoted as saying in his letter.

The sending of Indonesian observers was a result of the informal meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations on Feb. 22 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said in the statement on Thursday that: "Thailand welcomes Cambodia's readiness to attend the said meetings as it has all along been trying to convene bilateral negotiations with Cambodia."

Thani said the proposed GBC meeting would allow the two countries to discuss the TOR of the Indonesian observers.

However, he said in regard to the GBC meeting, "details with regard to the dates, venue and appropriate engagement of Indonesia remain matters to be discussed further."

He continued: "It is noted that at this juncture Cambodia has proposed that Indonesia attend the opening ceremony, and that, after the conclusion of the said meeting, both countries would share its outcome with Indonesia."

For the JBC meeting, Thani said Thailand had wanted to hold such a meeting in February "a proposal which Cambodia had first agreed to in principle before subsequently changing its position."

He continued: "However, it had been the Cambodian side which maintained that the three draft agreed minutes of the previous JBC meetings be approved by the Thai Parliament first before the said meeting could be convened."

A joint sitting of the House of Representatives and Senate is expected to deliberate and vote on the three draft minutes, seen as agreements that could affect Thai territory, later this month.

Thani's statement did not say clearly whether Thailand was prepared to join the GBC and JBC meetings on March 24-25 in Bogor.

PAD, which has been protesting against the government on its alleged mishandling of the Thai-Cambodian border dispute since Jan. 25, said in its letter to the Indonesian ambassador that the proposed sending of the Indonesian observers would not comply with the bilateral arrangement of Thailand and Cambodia on solving the border dispute, which is involved with a 4.6-square kilometer piece of land around the Preah Vihear temple.

The PAD letter also said the TOR of Indonesian observers could be seen as an agreement that would alter Thailand's sovereign border and, hence, require an approval from the bicameral parliament first.

In launching its rally in January, PAD wanted the Thai government to scrap the existing memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Thailand and Cambodia in 2000 as the framework for settling the two countries' border dispute.

They also urged the government to move out Cambodians who are occupying the disputed areas, and to pull out as a party to the World Heritage Convention, under which the Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as a World Heritage site by Cambodia in July 2008.

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