The Thai ministries of Interior and Defense yesterday hardened their opposition to Asean mediation in the border dispute with Cambodia as the date of meetings scheduled to occur near Jakarta approached.
However, a Thai government spokesman denied that the Cambodia matter had opened a gulf between Thai civilian and military officials, and Thailand’s defense minister reportedly ruled out the possibility of another coup d’etat in Bangkok.
Thai lawmakers today were due to begin the long-delayed consideration of the results of border negotiations with Cambodia, according to a Thai government spokesman.
The meetings, scheduled to take place on April 7 and 8 in Bogor, outside Jakarta, were announced this month as part of an effort within Asean to resolve the border crisis after last month’s deadly border clashes.
However, the Asean process has proved increasingly unpalatable to the Thai military.
The Thai Foreign Ministry on Wednesday claimed that Thai defense officials had been misquoted in media reports as saying they were opposed both to the meetings in Indonesia and to the presence of Indonesian observers at a disputed zone near the Preah Vihear temple.
But Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban joined the Thai Defense Ministry yesterday in opposing both the meetings and the presence of observers in the 4.6-square-km zone claimed by both Cambodia and Thailand, according to Thai media reports.
The Thai military likewise continued to spurn the meeting in Indonesia of the General Border Committee, which reviews security matters.
The Bangkok Post said Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon would only meet with his Cambodian counterparts if this took place in Thailand or Cambodia.
“We will not go to Indonesia. The meeting must be held in either Thailand or Cambodia only. However, there would be no problems if Indonesia wants to come as a listener,” Colonel Thanathip Sawngsaeng, a Thai Defense Ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying.
Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Cambodian Defense Ministry, said that Defense Minister General Tea Banh spoke with Gen Prawit yesterday, but could not comment further. Gen Banh could not be reached.
Thai government spokesmen, however, sought to add nuance to the reports, saying that in principle, Thailand still supported the meetings and Indonesian observers, but that unresolved sticking points must first be settled, namely where the observers would be stationed.
“Cambodia will have to agree upon the details,” said Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. “The principles have not changed. We just need to finalize the details.”
When asked if there was a rift between the government and the military, Mr Panitan said simply, “No.”
Thani Thongphakdi, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Mr Suthep had not rejected the use of observers but instead said they should not be placed inside the 4.6-square-km zone claimed by Thailand. He also said talks were ongoing between the two militaries regarding the General Border Com-mittee meeting.
“The Indonesian observers should not be in that area,” Mr Thani said. “As for the [meeting] venue, that is another issue that needs to be discussed.”
The Thai Foreign Ministry had announced on March 10 that “details with regard to the dates, venue and appropriate engagement of Indonesia” remained to be settled.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, said Thailand was backing out of its previous promises.
“Looking back to the Asean’s chairman’s declaration on Feb 22, which both countries agreed upon, all future meetings must have a presence by Indonesia,” he said.