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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cambodia, Thailand Reignite Talks for Joint Offshore Exploration

Cambodia and Thailand sought Thursday to revive long-stalled plans for joint offshore energy exploration along their disputed sea border, with Phnom Penh saying it wanted a deal "very soon".

Politics and the occasional border clash between the neighbors have for years got in the way of solving a lingering dispute about overlapping claims to undersea oil and natural gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand.

But ties between the two have eased significantly in recent months, sparking fresh hopes that a deal can be reached to finally allow both countries to tap into the potentially rich reserves.

Cambodia says that it is sitting on an estimated hundreds of millions of barrels of crude and three times as much natural gas, although observers say it remains unclear how much could be recovered and what the revenues would be.

"As both countries need income from oil and gas, we should reach an agreement very soon," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after meeting his Thai counterpart in Phnom Penh to discuss re-starting the talks.

Thai Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan said after meeting Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who heads the National Petroleum Authority: "We hope that in the future we're able to work on the overlapping claims area."

Once "some processes" were finalized, he told reporters, "the oil and gas will come out in eight to 10 years, not now".

Cambodia and Thailand first opened negotiations to jointly develop the disputed area in 1995, but they hit problems when ex-Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

Angered by Phnom Penh's decision to briefly appoint Thaksin as an economic adviser, and amid a festering border dispute near an ancient temple, Bangkok in 2009 decided to cancel a 2001 memorandum of understanding.

Tensions have eased markedly since Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, came to power in August.

Impoverished Cambodia said it hopes to begin pumping oil in December 2012 from offshore fields outside the contested zone, with exploration agreements with U.S. energy giant Chevron and French oil company Total already in place.

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