Malaysia reportedly blamed Thailand yesterday for sparking the latest round of border clashes with Cambodia by breaking a deal to host foreign observers, making it the first country to publicly take a side in the dispute.
Malaysia’s criticism came a day after a face-to-face meeting between the Thai and Cambodian premiers at an Asean summit in Jakarta failed to make any noticeable headway in resolving the long-running row.
Thailand and Cambodia agreed to host Indonesian observers on either side of a disputed borderline next to Preah Vihear temple after four days of deadly fighting there in early February. But Thailand held up the deal by refusing to allow the observers access to the disputed area itself.
On Saturday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva added the condition that Cambodia withdraw all its troops from the area first. Prime Minister Hun Sen immediately dismissed the new conditions as “irrational and unacceptable.”
Yesterday, Malaysian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Richard Riot Jaem sided with Cambodia.
“An agreement had been agreed upon, [Thailand] should adhere to it,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, according to the AFP news agency. “I wouldn’t say lacking in faith…[but] they did not adhere to the agreement.
“Thailand refused and that’s why the skirmish came again,” he said, referring to 12 more days of deadly fighting that broke out about 150 km west of Preah Vihear temple on April 22.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong welcomed Mr Jaem’s remarks.
“His comment is the truth,” he said. “It’s so obvious that Thailand is always trying to use any excuse all the time” not to host the observers.
“Everybody knows it. Indonesia itself knows it,” he said. “Cambodia has agreed to all terms of reference to establish the Indonesian observers, but Thailand agrees to nothing.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan also welcomed the Malaysian diplomat’s words.
“We appreciate it,” he said, adding that Malaysia’s public rebuke of Thailand might pressure Bangkok into finally accepting the observers—without its new conditions.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn declined to comment on Malaysia’s remarks because he had not yet read them himself.
Spokesmen at the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached.
Back in Jakarta, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong met with his Thai counterpart yesterday afternoon to follow up on the unproductive meeting their two premiers had there the day before.
By yesterday evening, the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Mr Kuong said he still had no information about what came of the meeting. More talks are scheduled.
Jakarta is set to host a meeting of Asean defense ministers next week. The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon was expected to meet Cambodian counterpart Tea Banh there to discuss border security.
In March, however, Thailand chose not to show for scheduled security talks with Cambodia—also in Jakarta—because its military officials refused to meet in a third country.