Thai Indecision Holds Up Observers, Minister Says

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, fresh from border talks with Thailand in Indonesia, said yesterday that the arrival of observers to a disputed border near Preah Vi-hear temple was now squarely in the hands of Bangkok and Jakarta.

After the apparently unsuccessful talks concluded in Indonesia on Fri­day, Thai Prime Minister Ab­hisit Vejjajiva yesterday rejected the possibility of stationing military ob­servers in a disputed border zone any time soon.

Cambodia and Thailand agreed in February to host Indonesian ob­servers on either side of the border to monitor an unofficial cease-fire brokered after four days of deadly fighting earlier that month.

Though Cambodia quickly ac­cepted Indonesia’s terms, Thailand held out, with its military opposed to giving the observers access to the disputed area. The talks hosted on Thursday and Friday by Indonesia as the current chair of Asean were supposed to bring the sides closer to an agreement.

But Mr Abhisit for the first time yesterday appeared to adopt the Thai military’s opposition to the observers’ presence.

According to Thai news website MCOT, Mr Abhisit said he had ruled out the possibility of hosting the observers inside the disputed area, echoing the stand taken by the country’s military. Any change to that stand, he said, would require fresh talks.

“Both countries earlier agreed that 15 Indonesian observers will be manned in Thailand and another 15 on the Cambodian side, but new talks should be held if Cambodia wants the observers stationed in the 4.6-square-km disputed area which belongs to Thailand, and Indonesia has to also reconsider the issue,” he said.

But Mr Namhong, speaking with reporters on arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday, said Cambodia was through talking with Thailand on the matter.

“There is no more negotiation on this issue because Thailand has already agreed to accept Indonesian observers and we already pointed out areas for the observers to stand,” he said. “It is up to Indonesia to discuss with Thailand.”

Though a Saturday morning meeting with Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya failed to move the two-day talks forward, Mr Namhong said their Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, would be in Bangkok today to try to make progress.

But Mr Namhong said the neighbors did manage to reaffirm their commitment to open up a new border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet City.

He said the parties were also scheduled to discuss taking aerial photographs of the site of February’s fighting and demarcating border posts west of there, though Thailand insisted on holding off until its Parliament approved the minutes of the Joint Boundary Committee’s last three meetings on border demarcation.

In a Saturday interview with broadcaster CTN, Mr Namhong also reiterated Cambodia’s readiness to welcome the Indonesian observers anytime and anywhere.

“I received a new draft from Indonesia for sending their observers to the border area, and we agreed promptly without any condition,” he said, “unlike Thailand.

“Cambodia agreed to everything and every condition,” he added. “We agreed absolutely to have Indonesian observers in the area to avoid further clashes.”

Like the Mr Namhong, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong described the meeting as less than a success.

“You can see for yourself,” he said. “Only one meeting occurred, one among the three [that were scheduled], and the one did not resolve anything. So it is some kind of failure.”

But Mr Kuong refused to paint it as a failing of Asean and its ability to deliver a settlement to the latest flare-up of border tensions.

Dismissing the thought of heading back to the UN Security Council–which, after listening to both sides of the dispute in February handed the issue off to Asean–he said it was now up to Indonesia to propose to next step.

“What we have to do now is wait and see,” he said.

Indonesian officials in Jakarta could not be reached yesterday.


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