The prime minister says it’s not Thaksin but Thailand’s July 2008 military
movements that are at the heart of today’s tensions
In his first public speech since Cambodia and Thailand restored full diplomatic relations last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that bilateral ties would not improve until Thailand withdrew its troops from a pagoda near Preah Vihear temple.
Speaking at a university graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen said former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s resignation from his post as an economic adviser to Cambodia would not solve the border dispute between the two countries.
Cambodia wrote to the UN and to Asean last month, seeking multilateral assistance to end a long-running border dispute over land located near Preah Vihear temple. Bilateral negotiations through a Joint Border Committee had become stagnant, with Cambodia refusing to attend a new JBC meeting until the Thai Parliament ratified the minutes from three previous meetings.
The announcement of Mr Thaksin’s resignation last week led Thailand to return its ambassador to Phnom Penh for the first time since Cambodia announced it had employed the fugitive former Thai premier in November. Cambodia, in turn, returned its ambassador to Bangkok, leading some observers to believe bilateral border relations would be improved.
Yesterday, however, Mr Hun Sen said Thailand needed to start taking more positive steps toward finding a resolution. One of the first steps, Mr Hun Sen said, would be for Thailand to remove its troops from the Keo Sikkhakiri Svara pagoda near Preah Vihear temple.
Mr Hun Sen said his relationship with Mr Thaksin remained strong and that it should not be blamed for the border dispute between the two countries.
“The problem is not because of Thaksin but [because of] the Thai invasion of Wat Keo Sikkhakiri Svara on July 15, 2008,” he said, in reference to Thai military movements inside Cambodian-claimed territory following the inscription of Preah Vihear temple on the World Heritage list.
“How will the problem be solved? It is easy, just remove the troops back” to Thailand, he said.
Mr Hun Sen repeated his earlier requests for the Thai Parliament to ratify the minutes of three previous JBC meetings so that the border demarcation process could proceed.
“I understand the Thai government…has to wait for the approval from the Parliament, but we have waited for too long,” he said, adding Cambodia would continue to seek a multilateral solution to the problem until Thailand showed a genuine commitment to bilateral negotiations.
Responding to Thai claims that Cambodians were encroaching on Thai territory, the premier said the Thai government should take their complaint to the UN. “Please file this to the UN…so the truth can be found,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen said he was likely to meet with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Asia-Europe meeting in Brussels in October, but added that border relations would not be the only topic of conversation.
Officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs were unavailable yesterday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said yesterday that there had not been any official contact between Thai Ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai and the government since the envoy returned last Tuesday.
“So far, I have no information” about when the Thai ambassador will meet Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and other government officials, Mr Kuong said.
Last week, Thailand said in a statement that a meeting of the General Border Committee—a bilateral committee focused on border-related security issues, but not demarcation—would be held in Bangkok next week.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, however, said yesterday that Cambodia had still not confirmed it would attend the Sept 8 meeting, as it had not yet received an official invitation.
Military officials stationed at the border near Preah Vihear temple said yesterday that the situation remained peaceful.