The marked improvement in relations between Cambodia and Thailand continued Friday as a Thai military delegation met with Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh in Phnom Penh.
It was the third time in less than a week that senior Thai officials had traveled to Cambodia for meetings, following the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the two countries. Diplomatic normalcy resumed last week, following former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s resignation as an economic adviser to Cambodia.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat said yesterday’s meeting between General Tea Banh and Lieutenant General Nipat Thonglek, head of the Thai directorate of border affairs, had paved the way for a meeting of the bilateral General Border Committee.
The GBC negotiates bilateral agreements on border-related security, crime and immigration issues, while a separate Joint Border Commission is tasked with demarcating the border between the countries. Cambodia has refused to attend another JBC meeting until the Thai Parliament ratifies the minutes from the previous three meetings.
Thai media have reported that a GBC meeting would be held next week in Bangkok, but Lt Gen Sucheat said a meeting date had not yet been finalized. He said that Lt Gen Nipat had handed Gen Banh a copy of a draft meeting agenda yesterday and that once Cambodian officials had reviewed it, a meeting could take place anytime.
“As our government has mentioned and Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen has said, it is OK for the GBC meeting to be held anytime and it can be organized anytime,” Lt Gen Sucheat said.
Lt Gen Sucheat said he could not remember the last time that Thai military officials had traveled to Phnom Penh for talks.
“This meeting was important to improve and strengthen relationships between the militaries, and diplomatic ties between the two countries,” he said. “It is a sign to prove that the situation along the border is not tense, because this meeting was held between both Cambodian soldiers and Thai soldiers.”
While the border dispute over territory near Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple was not discussed at yesterday’s meeting, Lt Gen Sucheat said troops from both sides were continuing to maintain friendly relations.
Officials at the Thai Embassy and the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs were unavailable yesterday.
Yesterday’s meeting came a day after Ongart Klampaiboon, minister to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s office, met with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.
Last weekend, Thailand’s deputy commerce minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot met with Cambodian officials and proposed the creation of sister economic zones along the countries’ shared border to boost trade.
Political observer Chea Vannath said yesterday that the shift in diplomatic relations between the two nations appeared to be for the better.
“Whatever the two countries governments or militaries are trying to do, it is good to maintain a respectable level of peace and harmony between the countries,” she said. “I think it is a good sign that they are willing to maintain friendly working relationships, rather than show their strength or deploy their military forces.”
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)