Thai Foreign Minister’s Visit Marks New Warmth in Relations

The visit of Thai Foreign Min-ister Kasit Piromya to Phnom Penh Monday marked a détente in Thai-Cambodian relations, with headway made on several issues and participants declaring a cooperative mood, although no major an-nouncement was made regarding the border dispute.

While making rounds of introductory visits to Cambodian leaders after taking office in December, Kasit met with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday afternoon. The Thai minister also met King Nor-odom Sihamoni, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim.

“I could say that my meeting with the Thai foreign minister was a good meeting,” Hun Sen said in a brief statement at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“On all points, I could say it is a good start, which we should continue to strengthen our relationship and resolve the remaining issues together,” he added, declining to take questions from reporters.

Hor Namhong detailed points of agreement in a news conference that he held with Kasit Monday morning.

Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will visit his Cambo-dian counterpart, Tea Banh, on Feb 6 to discuss the military presence in and around the Keo Sikha Kiri Svarak pagoda near the Preah Vihear temple, Hor Namhong said. Before that, the Joint Border Com-mission will meet again from Feb 2 to 4, and yearly meetings between the two countries, long suspended, will resume, he added.

Border-surveying work will resume immediately, starting with the temple area, to find the remaining 25 posts that demarcate the boundary between the two countries, he said.

“The urgent issue is redeployment of the armies in the pagoda and surrounding area, general surveying and finding demarcation posts,” Hor Namhong said.

The committee to demarcate the maritime border will also resume work in or before March, as soon as the Thai cabinet approves a chairman for its delegation, he added.

The two countries also vowed to push forward the Single Visa scheme, for which they signed a memorandum of agreement in 2005. They are piloting the program that would eventually allow tourists to use a single visa to visit all five members of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy—Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Burma.

“[Tourists] could carry a Thai visa to Cambodia and a Cambodian visa to Thailand,” Hor Namhong explained, though he gave no timeline or details and took no questions from reporters.

Kasit will also press the Thai Culture Ministry to expedite the return of stolen Khmer artifacts to Cambodia, the two foreign ministers said.

Hun Sen confirmed he would attend the Asean summit from Feb 27 to March 1 in Thailand and invited Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to visit Cambodia.

Hun Sen added that Kasit had handed him a letter from Abhisit, vowing the new Thai government’s goodwill toward Cambodia.

“I agree with your strategy to solve the border problems be-tween our countries and seek to further strengthen the relationship of both our countries,” Abhisit wrote, referring to Hun Sen’s speech Jan 20 in Oddar Meanchey province, when Hun Sen said the border dispute should be solved by bilateral means.

“My government vows to bring security and prosperity to both our citizens,” read the letter, which was translated by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and handed to reporters.

Kasit on Monday proved more appeasing than he had been before his accession to the minister position, when he had strongly criticized the previous Thai government’s handling of the border dispute and promoted a hard line in talks with Phnom Penh.

“We want to show that there is a negotiation at this time. It is very important to promote the relationship of our countries,” Kasit told reporters through a translator at the news conference.

He declined to take questions from reporters.

The Thai delegation also went to PJ prison to visit Abdul Azi Haji Chi-ming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, two Thai nationals sentenced to life in prison for plotting to bomb the US and UK embassies in Phnom Penh, said an official at the Thai Embassy who declined to be named.

He added Thailand had not yet asked for a pardon for the men but intended to.

“We are in the process of making inquiries to see what channels to use to make it happen,” he said.

The police case and court investigation of the two Thais was de-scribed by rights and legal groups at the time as deeply flawed.


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