Cambodia Calls for Observers Despite Thailand’s Hesitance

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong yesterday urged Indo­nesia to send its observers into a new, border-straddling demilitarized zone around the Preah Vi­hear temple whether Thailand agrees or not.

Mr Namhong was speaking at Phnom Penh International Air­port upon his return from the Nether­lands, where the UN’s top court on Monday created the zone and ordered Thai and Cam­bodian troops to withdraw “immediately.”

But both sides are hesitating.

Mr Namhong said he spoke with Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa by phone Tuesday to urge him to send his country’s observers soon. “I have told him that it’s time to have Indonesia’s obser­vers in the area regardless of Thailand’s flip-flopping,” he said.

In February, Cambodia and Thailand agreed in principle to host the observers to monitor an unofficial cease-fire local military commanders had just hammered out after four days of deadly fighting, but Thailand has since balked at letting them into the disputed area.

Mr Namhong also criticized Thailand for reportedly insisting that it would only draw its troops back after the two countries convened another meeting of their General Border Committee, a military-to-military body for discussing security issues. The Joint Border Com­mission works on demarcating the border.

“The court decision does not have any conditions,” he said of the International Court of Justice’s call for an immediate withdrawal. “The main thing is whether Thailand accepts it or not.”

Cambodia, however, has insisted that it would not draw back either until Indonesia’s observers were firmly in place.

Monday’s ruling by the ICJ orders both sides to let observers into the demilitarized zone but does not make it—or anything else—a condition for troop withdrawal.

“We do not mind the GBC and JBC,” the foreign minister said. “But now the Abhisit [Vejjajiva] government has no time to have a meeting. Let’s wait for the new government.”

Prime Minister Abhisit’s Demo­crat Party was voted out of power on July 3. The Cambodia-friendly Pheu Thai Party won national elections but has yet to take power.

And though Monday’s court decision went well beyond Cam­bodia’s original request that the ICJ order only Thailand out of the disputed border area, Mr Nam­hong ended by praising the verdict. “They cut the zone deep into Thailand’s territory,” he said. “It’s far beyond the Thai military base, which we call the Red House, to avoid any future at­tack from Thailand.”

Though failing to convince the court to throw the case out on grounds of jurisdiction, Thailand has also praised Monday’s verdict for urging the countries to re­sume their stalled border talks.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn yesterday said the Thai Foreign Affairs Mi­ni­­s­try was instructed to contact Indo­nesia, but he had no further information.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)



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