Foreign Minister Hor Namhong yesterday called Thailand’s sudden embrace of Asean observers at a disputed borderline around Preah Vihear temple a “success,” moments before leaving for an Asean meeting in Jakarta today where Cambodia hopes to seal the deal.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had called for Asean observers soon after the UN Security Council turned down a Feb 14 request that it send UN peacekeepers to the area, where four days of deadly fighting earlier this month have left a tense standoff.
According to The Bangkok Post, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya, immediately dismissed the idea and reportedly vowed that the plan would be “shot down” if raised in Jakarta.
But in a statement about the meeting posted on its website yesterday, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry said the government would “express its readiness to welcome observers from the government of Indonesia to be embedded with Thai troops at the border area where the clashes took place.
“This would be a reaffirmation that Thailand had never and would not be the first to fire,” the statement adds. “Thailand also hopes that Cambodia would do the same so as to ensure that there be no further armed clashes.”
Contacted in Jakarta yesterday, Thai Foreign Affairs spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said his government would not necessarily press for observers but would remain “open to the suggestion.”
Asked why Thailand was asking for Indonesian observers specifically, as opposed to those from any of Asean’s other nine members, he said the country’s current presidency of the regional body simply made it the best choice.
Even so, Mr Namhong welcomed the news as a victory for Cambodia, while embarking for Jakarta at Phnom Penh International Airport.
“This is our success, as we demanded at the UN…and asked for observers to monitor the area,” he said.
Mr Namhong also said he hoped to turn a temporary truce reached at an “informal” meeting between Thai and Cambodian military officials at the border Saturday into a permanent cease-fire.
In addition to holding their fire, he said the officials, led on the Cambodian side by Mr Hun Sen’s son, RCAF deputy infantry commander Major General Hun Manet, also agreed not to move their troops and equipment so as not to startle the other side.
Mr Thani said the meeting was merely for discussion.
“I think both sides had discussed ways and means that further clashes could be avoided,” he said.
For those talks to turn into any sort of agreement, he added, informal or otherwise, “both sides would have to report back” to their governments first.
He said that the Thai military had also taken 14 foreign military attaches on a visit yesterday to a Thai village near the fighting “just to observe the situation near the border.”
At the border itself, meanwhile, Major General Srey Doek, stationed at the temple in command of RCAF’s 3rd Division, said conditions were “stable” yesterday despite a reported ongoing military buildup on the Thai side.
Both sides accused each other of breaking their last cease-fire last week.
As for today’s meeting in Jakarta, Cambodia hopes to join Thailand in signing a permanent cease-fire witnessed by Asean.
“I am really confident about Asean,” Mr Namhong said. “Even though Asean is not an international judicial organization, it is very influential in both economics and politics. So any Asean decision is very significant both regionally and internationally.”
Thailand says it hopes the meeting will bolster its efforts to settle its dispute with Cambodia through other bilateral channels.