Bilateral Solution Still Sought After, Gov’t Says

As Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan held discussions with Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh yesterday, the government said it would continue to push for a multilateral solution to solve its border dispute with Thailand.

Cambodia wrote to Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem, Asean’s current chair, on Saturday, requesting that the regional body help mediate discussions about the border dispute. All of Asean’s foreign ministers were also sent a copy of the letter.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that although the government had not given up on solving the dispute through bilateral mechanisms, including the Joint Border Commission set up under a 2000 Memorandum of Understanding between the two nations, it would push for a multilateral solution until the Thai government proved it was serious about moving forward with talks.

“I want to confirm that our position is still [to solve the dispute] through a bilateral solution,” Mr Kuong said. “But how long can Cambodia wait? We have to choose a multilateral solution now. As [we] have said, Cambodia has to choose a multilateral solution because bilateral negotiations are at an impasse.”

Mr Surin met with Mr Hun Sen yesterday afternoon, but details of the meeting were not immediately available from government or Asean officials.

Briefly stopping to talk to reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Hor Namhong yesterday morning, Mr Surin said it was premature to discuss any involvement that Asean may have in the dispute. “I will have to wait for the decision of the Asean Foreign Ministers,” he said.

The dispute between the two nations involves a 4.6-square-kilometer parcel of land near Preah Vihear temple that Thailand claims is inside its border. Cambodia rejects Thailand’s claims to the territory, and the disagreement has led to several armed clashes since 2008.

Responding to Cambodia’s request for Asean intervention in the matter, Thai Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Vimon Kidchob released a statement late Sunday night saying that solving the dispute required “patience and good faith.”

“Thailand believes that the current differences between Thailand and Cambodia-both being close neighbors and fellow Asean member countries-should best be resolved peacefully through existing bilateral mechanisms,” Ms Vimon’s statement said.

“Thailand has kept the other members of the Asean family informed of developments and thus appreciates their understanding and support in this regard.”

Mr Hun Sen’s request for Asean intervention came less than a week after the premier wrote to the UN Security Council and General Assembly to inform them that Thailand had threatened to use military force to solve the dispute.

Cambodian officials claim that border negotiations have stalled because the Thai Parliament has failed to ratify reports from three previous Joint Border Commission meetings. Thai media said yesterday that the Thai Foreign Ministry would table the reports for approval in the Thai Parliament today.

Cambodia’s border committee chairman Var Kimhong said yesterday that the government was ready to start talking to Thailand as soon as the reports were ratified.

“If the Thai Parliament ratifies the previous three talks, then we can talk.” Mr Kimhong said yesterday. “If there is no ratification, what is the point of talking? It would be a waste of money and a waste of time.”



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