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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Military Attaches to Inspect Sites of Border Clashes

The stone remains of Preah Vihear, built nearly 1,000 years ago, are supposed to be a protected U.N. World Heritage site. Instead they are at the heart of a dangerous tug-of-war between Cambodia and Thailand.

A delegation of foreign military attaches is scheduled to visit Preah Vihear temple Thursday, military officials said.

Cambodia says the 11th-Century temple was damaged by Thai artillery in border clashes in February and has asked Unesco to assess the damage. Thai officials maintain Cambodia has troops close to the temple, putting it at risk to future damage.

The military delegation will include 19 representatives of foreign countries including the US, China and Japan and will last for two days, said Chhum Socheath, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

The defense attaches will meet with Cambodian frontline commanders before touring as many areas along the border as possible, Chhum Socheath said. This will include strike sites where Cambodian officials say cluster munitions were used by Thai soldiers.

“They will see the reality, and from what they see they will have their own views,” he said. “I think a visit to Preah Vihear temple at this time will be very productive.”

Intense clashes between the two side Feb. 4 through Feb. 7 left at least 10 people dead and sent villagers fleeing for safety.

Both sides have since agreed to a ceasefire and a monitoring mission from Indonesia, the current head of Asean, but Thailand has said it does not condone a Unesco inspection of the temple while military tensions remain high.

Cambodian military officials on the border said they have been put on heightened alert for the military delegation’s visit.
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A Current of Nationalism, Not Extremism: Researcher

Cambodians are experiencing an upsurge in nationalism thanks to a continued border dispute with Thailand, but a researcher says it has not veered toward extremism.

Lao Monghay, a former researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission, told “Hello VOA” Monday that Cambodians are now cooperating in economy, trade and culture more closely.

However, he added, trade goods from neighboring countries like China, Thailand and Vietnam are still in high demand.

“In Cambodia, even though there is stronger nationalism, it has not been extreme,” he said. “We see that Cambodians don’t seem to discriminate or oppose the goods of their neighbors at all. Even Thai goods, there is no movement stirred up to boycott Thai goods.”

Cambodians from many walks of life have rallied around the perceived threat posed by border clashes with Thailand, with the fiercest clashes to date last month.

A border dispute near Preah Vihear temple, a cultural touchstone for many Cambodians, has elicited support for Cambodian soldiers. But there have been no violent demonstrations, such as those in 2003, when a Thai actress was rumored to have said Angkor Wat should belong to Thailand. The 2003 demonstrations escalated into a night of rioting and the burning of the Thai Embassy by a mob of Cambodian youths.

Lao Monghay said that kind of nationalism was dangerous and to be avoided.
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Cambodia accepts military observers

Cambodia has accepted terms of reference for unarmed Indonesian military observers to watch over a ceasefire along the Preah Vihear border area and now awaits a response from Thailand.

“We have clearly stated in the terms of reference letter that in the case of a Thai objection, Cambodia will receive Indonesian observers alone,” said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We don’t know about the Thai side but our stance is that we have completely agreed to the terms of reference.”

After four days of fighting early last month left at least 10 dead, dozens injured and thousands temporarily displaced on both sides, Cambodia and Thailand agreed at an informal meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on February 22 in Jakarta to allow Indonesian military observers to monitor a ceasefire.

The 30 observers, 15 in each country, will report to both ASEAN and the United Nations Security Council, which has called for a permanent ceasefire.

Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, sent Phnom Penh and Bangkok the terms of reference last week.

Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak, deputy spokesman of the Royal Thai Army, and Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Cambodian Ministry of Defence will lead a tour of the border area and the Preah Vihear temple tomorrow for military attachés from more than 10 embassies.

Although the move follows a similar event organised by Thailand, it has apparently annoyed at least some in the Thai army according to an unnamed military source quoted in the Bangkok Post.

Koy Kuong said there was no reason for the visit to increase tensions.

“Cambodia only brings those foreign military attachés to visit the border inside Cambodian territory, so there is not anything to cause tension,” he said.

“Thailand also brought foreign military attachés to visit the border recently, and Cambodia did not say it caused tension.”
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ASEAN and the Cambodia-Thailand confiict

The fighting and violence that have taken place in the Thai-Cambodia border area violate both the letter of solemn agreements among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its spirit, the spirit which underlies the very concept of ASEAN.

As ASEAN members, Cambodia and Thailand are both signatories to the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), which commits them to reject the use or threat of force in the relations between states and to the peaceful settlement of inter-state disputes.

The overriding purpose in this regard is to avoid and prevent actions that result in the death or injury of human beings. Already, between ten and twenty persons are reported to have been killed and countless others injured or displaced in the border fighting between the two countries.

In addition to the provisions of TAC, certain facts have to be kept in mind to avoid the repetition of violence in the future.

The first is that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962 ruled that the temple of Preah Vihear, near where the fighting has occurred, belonged to Cambodia. Both Cambodia and Thailand had agreed to submit their dispute to the ICJ and to abide by its decision. The current dispute is not about the temple itself but over a strip of land nearby, which the ICJ saw fit not to adjudicate but which joint Cambodia-Thailand border and boundary bodies are supposed to deal with.

Another fact to remember is that in 2008 UNESCO listed Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. It did so upon Cambodia’s proposal but with the support of Thailand. This cooperation between the two was manifested in an agreement signed in June 2007 by Noppadol Pattama, then foreign minister in the government of Samak Sundaravej, a successor to the deposed Thaksin Sinawatra deemed sympathetic to Thaksin. Anti-Thaksin politicians have charged that the agreement violated Thailand’s constitution.

These events were also inflamed by nationalistic public emotions. It would be responsible and indicative of the value that the leaderships in both countries place on human life if they were to dampen the emotional flames instead of fanning them.

As the weaker protagonist, Cambodia has sought to multilateralise and internationalise the matter, including asking for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on it. However, Thailand has expressed its preference for bilateral negotiations. But there are venues for mediating this conflict other than the world body, among them regional countries and ASEAN itself.

In recognition of this, Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono, President of Indonesia, this year’s ASEAN chair, has sent his foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, to Cambodia and Thailand on 7 and 8 February, respectively. The new ASEAN Charter allows the parties to a dispute ‘to request the Chairman of ASEAN or the Secretary-General of ASEAN . . . to provide good offices, conciliation or mediation’. Marty and the foreign ministers of Cambodia and Thailand were invited to the 14 February UNSC meeting, at which all three made statements.

At the end of that meeting, the Council President, Brazil, issued a statement calling on ‘the two sides to display maximum restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation’ and ‘to establish a permanent ceasefire . . . and resolve the situation peacefully and through effective dialogue’. It went on: ‘The (Council) members . . . expressed support for ASEAN’s active efforts in this matter and encouraged the parties to continue to cooperate with the organization in this regard. They welcomed the . . . Meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on 22 February.’

The Cambodia-Thailand conflict puts to a severe test both ASEAN and Indonesia. Indonesia was one of ASEAN’s founders, its largest member and its current chair. Indonesia was where the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation was signed and the Blueprint for an ASEAN Political and Security Community was adopted, in 2003. It is the leading proponent of the Political and Security Community, which calls for the prevention of disputes and conflicts from arising between member-states.

The 22 February ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting was called, hosted and chaired by Indonesia as ASEAN’s chair. It resulted in clever compromises among Thailand’s call for bilateral negotiations, third-party intervention, and ASEAN’s role. While the statement released at the end of the meeting underscored bilateral talks, it also repeatedly referred to Indonesia, which the ministers called on to send ceasefire observers on both sides of the disputed territory, as ‘ASEAN’s chair’.

For the sake of their peoples and of the region, not to mention ASEAN’s credibility, the efforts at mediation by Indonesia as the ASEAN chair and a cessation of hostilities must be encouraged and succeed.

Author: K. Kesavapany, ISEAS

K. Kesavapany is the Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

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Lawmakers to boost Cambodian ties

HA NOI — The National Assemblies of Viet Nam and Cambodia needed to strengthen co-ordination and create the most favourable legal foundation for increasingly deep and effective co-operation between the two sides, said the former's Chairman, Nguyen Duc Kien.

He also confirmed the Viet Nam Party and Government's consistent policy to attach importance to developing relations with Cambodia.

He made the comments during a reception for the Cambodian Assembly's Commission on Education, Youth and Sports, Cults, Religious Affairs, Culture and Tourism chairman Mom Chim Huy in Ha Noi yesterday.

Kien suggested the two assemblies pay attention to popularisation and education work so that Vietnamese and Cambodian people, especially young generations, would continuously preserve and promote the fine traditional relationship between the two countries.

Kien said he wanted ministries, agencies, cities and provinces of the two sides to strengthen exchanges and further expand multi-faceted co-operation and relations, especially in economics, trade, investment, culture and education, based on full exploitation of potential and advantages in each country.

He acknowledged developments in the relationship between the two assemblies in the past, saying that they helped boost the traditional friendship, neighbourly relations and comprehensive co-operation between the two nations.

He thanked the Cambodian Assembly for its active support for Viet Nam as the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly Chair during the 2009-2010 term and expressed his belief that the Cambodian Assembly would fulfil its role as the Chair during the 2010-2011 term and successfully host the 32nd AIPA Assembly in the country this September.

For his part, Chairman Mom Chim Huy affirmed the Cambodian Assembly's wish and determination to consolidate and further strengthen the exchange and co-operation between the commissions in particular and between the two legislative bodies of the two countries in general.

He stated that bilateral co-operation between Cambodia and Viet Nam had strongly developed in all fields, with two-way trade reaching US$1.8 billion last year. Vietnamese businesses have invested around $2 billion in Cambodia. — VNS
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