Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong announced Tuesday that the “imminent state of war” with Thailand required the emergency intervention of the UN Security Council, and that he would fly to New York this week to personally request assistance.
This is Cambodia’s second try at lobbying an international mediator to help resolve the ongoing military standoff at Preah Vihear temple, after a plea for Asean intervention was blocked by Thailand, Hor Namhong said Tuesday morning at a press conference attended by representatives from every embassy to Cambodia, except Thailand.
“Despite our maximum restraint, despite our compromises, we have not received any positive response from the other side,” Hor Namhong said.
Cambodia’s permanent mission to the UN filed a formal complaint to the UN Security Council late Monday night, hours after peace talks with Thailand ended in a stalemate, Hor Namhong said.
“In the face of this imminent state of war, in the face of this vicious threat to our heritage land, we have an obligation to resort to the UN Security [Council] in order to… not resort to war,” he added.
Cambodia is also seeking Unesco’s intervention.
In a letter to Unesco Director General Koichiro Matsuura on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Thailand of defying “all principles of international law” with behavior that “gravely threatens peace and stability in the region.”
The letter informed Unesco, which serves as the secretariat for the 21-nation World Heritage Committee that inscribed Preah Vihear temple as a heritage site on July 7, of the Thai troop buildup around the temple and failed efforts to defuse the tensions.
“As of 21 July 2008, the situation has escalated further due to the movement of Thai artillery and armored combat vehicles into the area and the continuing increase of heavily armed Thai soldiers” near Preah Vihear temple, Hun Sen said in the letter, which was made available Tuesday by the Council of Ministers.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia would like to request the Unesco to take urgent action for the protection of this World Heritage Site,” Hun Sen said in the letter.
Hun Sen also requested that Unesco ask the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly “to take measures that would lead to a peaceful resolution and avoid any armed confrontation.”
Unesco officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. However, last week, Unesco Chief of Unit for East Asia and the Pacific Giovanni Boccardi said Unesco would not intervene.
“I don’t think that it would be within the mandate of Unesco, as a specialized UN Agency working in the field of Education, Sciences and Culture, to mediate between two countries on legal matters related to territorial disputes,” Boccardi said in an e-mail July 17.
The requests for UN intervention came after Monday’s peace talks with Thailand failed to defuse the tense scene at Preah Vihear temple, where officials say thousands of heavily armed Thai and Cambodian troops are stationed.
During the peace talks, Defense Minister Tea Banh offered to draw down Cambodian troops stationed at Preah Vihear and also remove the Cambodian market vendors at the nearby temple’s steps if Thailand agreed to withdraw its troops and restore the situation to its pre-July 15 level, Hor Namhong said.
Thailand refused, he said, and continues to claim its troops are on Thai land.
Hor Namhong said he asked Singapore, the chair of Asean, on Monday to form a four-nation regional group to help find a peaceful solution to the “escalating” crisis with “Thai troops with artilleries” and “tanks” building up along the border.
However, Thailand has “rejected any role of Asean in the matter,” Hor Namhong said Tuesday, leaving UN intervention as the last solution.
Officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In a statement posted late Tuesday on the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry Web site, Thailand said its representative at today’s meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Singapore insisted that bilateral negotiations continue without Asean intervention.
The next bilateral meeting will be held after Cambodia’s general election, according to the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry, which said Cambodia acted prematurely in bringing the matter to Asean.
According to a statement issued Monday by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, the UN leader is “closely following the situation” and is “concerned about the current escalation of tensions.”
Yet as of Tuesday evening, Cambodia’s complaint was not on the 15-nation UN Security Council’s agenda for July, nor did Cambodian officials know when the complaint would be heard or what the UN could do.
Vietnam, president of the UN Security Council for July, has urged “both sides to use restraint, avoid allowing complicated developments, and try to settle the outstanding issues through peaceful negotiations in the spirit of friendship and solidarity of Asean,” according to a statement posted Monday on the Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Ministry Web site.
The Vietnamese Embassy had no updates on the nation’s stance Tuesday.
US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, after the meeting Tuesday morning, said he did not know what stance will be taken by the US—one of the Security Council’s five permanent members—nor did the US Embassy have a stance on who rightfully owns the pagoda where Thai troops have amassed since July 15.
“It is still very unclear that this has to go to the Security Council. We remain hopeful that this can be resolved bilaterally, and if not bilaterally, then in an Asean context,” Mussomeli said.
“We’re very impressed so far with the restraint that Cambodia and Thailand have shown,” he added. “When you have that many young men with that many weapons in that close a proximity, there is always a danger of violence.”
Both Cambodia and Thailand reportedly agreed at Monday’s bi-lateral meeting to not increase troop levels at Preah Vihear, but Cambodian officials said Tuesday that Thailand appeared to be increasing its forces elsewhere along the border.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thailand has amassed 10 army tanks, attack helicopters and 1,000 troops near the border with Oddar Meanchey province.
And patrolling along the border with Banteay Meanchey province are another 500 to 600 Thai troops, up from 40 before July 15, said provincial police chief Hun Hean.