Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Politics, confusion stall temple solution

Preah Vihear Temple

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation
Published on September 2, 2009

The dispute with Cambodia over Preah Vihear Temple will not end easily since political forces in Thailand are keen only on presenting more problems, rather than pushing for a constructive solution.

The unnecessary conflict with Cambodia broke out more than 13 months ago when the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the Democrat Party, then in opposition, forced the Thai government to object to Cambodia's proposal to list the 11th century Khmer sanctuary as a world heritage site.

Since the Thai attempt to block the World Heritage Committee's decision to grant the status failed, the fight should now be over. Two border skirmishes in October last year and April this year, which claimed seven soldiers on both sides and injured many others, should have been a high enough price for Thai jealousy.

People in the border province of Si Sa Ket were supposed to have resumed their businesses, earning income from the attractive world heritage listed site. Closure of the tourism site for more than a year is not good for anybody.

Thousands of troops from both sides, deployed to the disputed area adjacent to the Hindu temple more than a year ago, should have a chance to relax and rejoin their families. There's no point in having troops confront each other, since the two countries have no real intention of waging a war.

Thai and Cambodian commanders have no desire for conflict. They have talked several times and agreed again and again to solve the problem peacefully.

In the latest development, the Cambodian army has cut 50 per cent of its troops at the disputed area and withdrawn to their barracks in the southwest Kampot province - the outcome of a meeting last week between Thai Supreme Commander General Songkitti Jaggabatra and his Cambodian counterpart, General Pol Saroeun. Nevertheless, a significant number of troops remain and the Preah Vihear stays closed.

Foreign ministries from the two countries have made it clear they should sit together for talks and end the conflict diplomatically. They began their work late last year when the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) met in November in Siem Reap, the first ever after the Preah Vihear new riff. The JBC met twice this year in February and April to lay out plans for boundary demarcation and provisional arrangements.

However, further discussion could not be pursued since the Thai Constitution's article 190 requires the Foreign Ministry to bring minutes of the three meetings back for Parliament's consideration.

It is widely misunderstood among some academics and senators that the JBC has set the provisional arrangements, causing a loss of Thai sovereignty over the disputed area of 4.6 square kilometres. Some senators threatened to reject the committee reports during a session on Wednesday, blocking further talk of the JBC.

In fact, what the JBC has done regarding the provisional arrangement for the disputed area has been to reach an agreement to name security units there as 'temporary military monitoring'. The real arrangement has yet to be done.

The provisional arrangement is needed for both sides to jointly run the disputed area as long as the demarcation remains unfinished. It includes a plan for troop redeployment in the disputed area.

It remained unclear whether it is purely the PAD-backed senators' misunderstanding or political motivation driving their objection to the JBC report.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party, supposedly experts on the matter since their experience in government last year, managed to delay the Parliament session on Monday, cornering Defence Minister Pravit Wongsuwan over Cambodia's road construction in the disputed area.

They know very well that the road problem can be solved only through the JBC, but intend to delay JBC talks by derailing the Parliament session to discredit and gain revenge on the Democrat-led government.

As Parliament has opened a session for Preah Vihear debate again today, all politicians should not delay it again but encourage the JBC to work to bring peace into the border area.

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