A day after their premiers left Jakarta empty-handed, the foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia reached a tentative six-step roadmap to settling their long running border disputes yesterday.
But it remained unclear whether Thailand had dropped its demand that Cambodia withdraw its troops from disputed land next to Preah Vihear temple first, a decision that could still make or break the deal.
In a CTN interview broadcast from Jakarta, where a summit of Asean leaders wrapped up Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said that he and Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya reached the “package” deal Monday with some mediation from Indonesia.
“All three foreign ministers agreed to request approval for the package from their governments as soon as possible,” he said.
The deal comes after a pair of deadly border clashes in February and April over disputed territory along Thailand and Cambodia’s shared border, the latest iterations of a centuries-old tug-of-war between the neighbors.
It includes little that Thailand and Cambodia haven’t discussed already, from having Indonesian observers monitor a cease-fire around Preah Vihear temple or holding more meetings to demarcate the border. But it bundles them together in a series of six steps, each depending on successfully completing the one before.
Mr Namhong spelled out the steps like so: Thailand officially accepts Indonesia’s terms for the observers; at the same time, the two countries set a date for their next border meeting; five days later, Indonesia sends an evaluation team to the disputed border around the temple; in another five days, the two countries hold their border meeting and; the observers arrive; finally, Indonesia will “evaluates and observe” the border meeting.
“This is a step forward,” Mr Namhong said. “This package… will ease the way for the General Border Commission and the Joint Boundary Committee to work in peace.”
The two bodies discussed security and demarcation along the border respectively.
He said Thailand had also dropped its demand that Cambodia withdraw its troops from the temple area before the observers could arrive, an idea Prime Minister Hun Sen vehemently rejected as “irrational and unacceptable.”
But according to the Bangkok Post, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stuck to the demand yesterday.
“Thailand’s stance remains the same,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “If Cambodia doesn’t withdraw its troops from the disputed border area, no observers will be sent there.”
In another Post report, Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said he also wanted the troops withdrawn—and border security talks with Cambodia—before the observers could come.
In a related story, the Post reported that the Thai 2nd Army would block fuel exports to Cambodia until the border situation “returns to normal.”
Speaking with reporters on his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday afternoon, Mr Namhong dismissed the report.
“If Thailand stops it, let them stop it. We never, ever import petroleum from them to support our military,” he said.
Mr Namhong added that Thailand assured him that Mr Abhisit would propose the deal to his Cabinet by Tuesday.
Once approved, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said, the six-step plan will be set in motion as soon as Thailand officially OKs the terms for the observers.
“On the same day, Cambodia will set a date for the next GBC,” he said.
Thai military and foreign affairs spokesmen could not be reached for comment and questions e-mailed to them went unanswered.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)