The leaders of Cambodia and Thailand appeared no closer to resolving their three-year border dispute after a face-to-face meeting on the final day of an Asean summit in Jakarta yesterday.
Prime Minister Hun Sen returned to Phnom Penh last night from the regional summit, which had been overshadowed by the border dispute. The two nations’ foreign ministers were due to remain in Jakarta for an extra day to attempt to salvage an agreement.
In a television interview broadcast from Jakarta yesterday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the mood of the meeting with his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, which was reportedly mediated by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had been “better” than that of the day before, when the Cambodian and Thai leaders publicly traded accusations of bad faith.
But the prospect of Indonesian observers arriving to monitor a cease-fire around Preah Vihear temple, to which both sides agreed in principle in February, only grew dimmer. The observers were proposed after four days of deadly fighting over 4.6 square km of disputed land next to the temple in February.
After holding off on approval of Indonesia’s terms, Mr Abhisit announced Saturday that his Cabinet had given its consent on condition that Cambodia withdraw troops from a pagoda inside the disputed area and from the temple itself.
Mr Hun Sen quickly rejected this condition. According to Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry, Thailand is also asking Cambodia to remove troops from a market at the base of the Preah Vihear temple.
According to a copy of his remarks, Mr Abhisit also accused Cambodia of breaking a 2000 Memorandum of Understanding between the countries by moving troops into the disputed area and he again rebuked Phnom Penh for seeking to “internationalize” the dispute by calling for Asean’s help. Cambodia last month also asked the International Court of Justice to revisit a 1962 ruling in order to determine the border.
Mr Abhisit said Cambodian claims that the bilateral efforts to settle the dispute had failed were “simply not true” and cited an April session of the Joint Boundary Committee, charged with demarcating the shared border. Though the meeting was the first in two years, it appeared to achieve little.
In his own address to the summit on Saturday, Mr Hun Sen called Thailand’s conditions for the observers “irrational and unacceptable” and a thinly veiled effort to scuttle the whole plan.
“This is testimony that Thailand does not have the good will to accept the Indonesian observers and does not have the willingness to settle this border dispute in accordance with the international law and by peaceful means,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks carried by the official Cambodian news agency. “Thailand, as a big country, continues to have the ambition to prolong the armed conflicts in order to violate weaker neighboring Asean members.”
Yesterday Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya also gave little sign the morning’s talk between the premiers had achieved much.
“There’s no conclusion,” Mr Kasit was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency. “We’ll need further talks after this.”
But the fact that they even met may be a sign of progress in itself. Days ahead of the summit, Thai media had reported that Mr Abhisit said he would deliberately avoid meeting with Mr Hun Sen in Jakarta, though government spokesmen declined to confirm or deny this.
And while Mr Hun Sen stuck to Cambodia’s demands yesterday morning that the dispute around Preah Vihear temple be settled with Asean’s help, he left the door open to bilateral talks on other security issues.