Thailand, over Cambodian objections, is seeking to link resolution of its territorial dispute around the undemarcated border at Preah Vihear temple to negotiations on the overlapping claims area for offshore oil exploration, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said in an interview Thursday.
“They want to link it to the Preah Vihear case,” Cham Prasidh said.
“If we solve the Preah Vihear case, then we solve also the overlapping zone offshore. It’s completely different things,” the minister said.
Though no precise data is publicly available, the overlapping claims in the maritime border are thought to have more promising oil and gas deposits than Cambodia’s established territorial waters.
A revenue-sharing agreement on those potential resources has yet to be hammered out, according to Thai and Cambodian officials.
“We discuss that overlapping claim zone with already nine administrations in Thailand,” Cham Prasidh said. “We are narrowing the gap in the negotiation, but now it sounds like Thailand has added additional condition that is going to be not easy to solve.”
Cabinet Minister Sok An plans to travel to Thailand in the coming months to discuss both disputed claims areas, Cham Prasidh said, but added that a date has not yet been set for his visit.
Te Duong Tara, director-general of Cambodia’s National Petroleum Authority, could not be reached for comment.
A Thai embassy official Thursday denied that Thailand wants to link the two issues.
“The concept is similar, but we don’t link the offshore overlapping claims area to Preah Vihear,” said Chaturont Chaiyakam, first secretary at the Thai embassy.
The Preah Vihear temple complex sits atop a cliff that straddles an unsettled border between Cambodia and Thailand in the Dangrek Mountains.
Though Thailand officially recognizes that the temple complex belongs to Cambodia, per a 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice, Bangkok claims sovereignty over about 8 square km of land near the site.
Thailand has proposed jointly managing the contested area around the temple pending resolution of the border issue, according to a March statement from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan emphasized that from Cambodia’s perspective, there is no border dispute.
“The border was demarcated in 1904,” he said Thursday. “Officially, we don’t have a dispute.”
Phay Siphan said that, per the terms of a 2000 agreement, a joint Thai-Cambodian task force was now “verifying” the border.
He said he did not know when they might conclude their work.
“Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, period,” he said.
Thailand, he added, “respects our sovereignty, period.”
Last month, Thailand complained of a Cambodian troop buildup around the disputed territory near the temple complex, a charge Phnom Penh denied.
Tuesday, Thai and Cambodian officials agreed to jointly support Preah Vihear’s listing as a World Heritage site, according to a news release from the Council of Ministers.
In its statement, the Council of Ministers emphasized that the bilateral support for the World Heritage designation announced this week is “without prejudice to the demarcation work of the joint Land Boundary Commission.”
Citing an unnamed Thai military source, The Nation newspaper in Bangkok reported Thursday that “a move to block Cambodia’s proposal to list Preah Vihear temple as a United Nations World Heritage Site will probably fail as the government in Phnom Penh has managed to lobby at least 21 countries to take its side.”
The Thai military source is cited as calling this week’s meeting between Sok An and Thai Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Virasakdi Futrakul as “useless” because Phnom Penh had already achieved its goal.
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