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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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CAB approves direct flights to Cambodia, but actual flights may still take time to happen

Direct flights from the Philippines to Cambodia may soon be a reality after the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) gave local carriers the greenlight to add frequencies for the neighboring country.

The Philippine carriers that received the flight frequencies are AirAsia, Airphil Express, Cebu Pacific, and Zest Air, according to industry regulator CAB.

However, it will take some time before actual flights to Pnomh Penh or Siem Reap can take off from the Philippines, CAB Air Operating Rights Division OIC Noni Godoy told GMA News Online in a telephone interview.

“Nasa planning stages pa ang mga airlines. Aayusin muna nila ang flight schedule, tapos mag-aapply sa amin for approval,” she said.

She added that CAB issued the go ahead to add frequencies in response to a bilateral agreement between Manila and Pnomh Penh, referring to the Dec. 8 meeting of the Philippines-Cambodia Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation in Pnomh Penh.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda F. Basilio and Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Ung Sean headed the meeting, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Dec. 16.

Discussed during the meeting were efforts at developing bilateral cooperation, including air services and tourism.

“The Philippines and Cambodia agreed to conclude the agreements on culture and air services as soon as possible,” the DFA said.

But for now, travelers from Manila will still have to take connecting flights to get to Pnomh Penh or Siem Reap, usually from Thailand or Vietnam.

According to the Zest Air ticket, sales and cargo center , the airline still does not have direct flights to Cambodia.

The CAB is mandated by law to regulate, promote and develop the economic aspect of Philippine air transportation. — VS, GMA News
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