Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called Thailand’s insistence on bilateral border meetings “slaps in the face” to current Asean chair Indonesia and the UN Security Council, both of which have sought a mediated resolution to the dispute with Thailand.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen restated a pledge that Cambodia would attend meetings scheduled for April 7 and 8 in Bogor, Indonesia, and chastised Thailand for dragging its feet over committing to the talks.
Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry reportedly reminded Thai authorities on Friday that they had yet to confirm their attendance.
“They wanted to have bilateral negotiations first. It is impossible for bilateral negotiations. This issue was already brought to the UN Security Council, and the UN Security Council gave it to Asean,” the premier said. “It slaps Asean’s chairman, Indonesia, in the face as well as slapping the UN Security Council.”
Mr Hun Sen also said Thailand’s request for bilateral meetings “violated” Asean’s declaration of Feb 22 at a meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Jakarta, when the neighboring countries agreed to host observers on either side of the disputed border after four days of fighting broke out Feb 4 near the Preah Vihear temple.
“Cambodia has absolutely declared that we will go to Bogor. [If] Thais will go or not, it’s a Thai problem,” the premier said. “We respect Indonesia’s invitation to the meeting.”
He added that if meetings of the Joint Border Commission, where border negotiations occur, and the General Border Committee, where security is discussed, failed to resolve the dispute, he would bring the matter before the next Asean summit.
“I will take the war issue between Cambodia and Thailand to Asean’s desk,” Mr Hun Sen said.
Civilian leaders in Bangkok last week appeared upstaged when the Thai military publicly voiced opposition to Asean mediation in the border dispute, saying Cambodia and Thailand could hammer out a resolution together. Thai media also quoted the country’s army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, saying Indonesian observers were not wanted along the border.
A joint session of Thailand’s houses of Parliament on Friday also deferred a vote on whether to ratify the minutes from three previous JBC meetings. The Thai news website MCOT said yesterday that the Parliament would resume debating the documents today.
A spokesman at the Thai Foreign Ministry was unavailable yesterday, and Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Thai government spokesman, would not comment on Mr Hun Sen’s speech since he said he was unable to verify the remarks.
Speaking in general terms, Mr Panitan said Thailand supported the meetings in principle and hoped to put an end to the ongoing dispute.
Asked if Thailand would attend the meetings in Indonesia, Mr Panitan did not offer a direct reply.
“We believe that the best way to solve the problem between Cambodia and Thailand is to use the existing mechanisms” like the GBC and JBC meetings, he said. “We are committed to these mechanisms.”
During his speech, Mr Hun Sen mocked the Thai government for the apparent division between its leaders—specifically its deputy prime minister and defense minister—for waffling on their commitment to the meetings. He said no such disagreement existed in Cambodia.
No country “keeps ministers who have the different stance from the prime minister,” he said, adding that Cambodia’s ministers had no “contrary stance” concerning his work on the border issue.
(Additional reporting by Frank Radosevich)