Government spokesmen in Thailand Wednesday downplayed media reports that Thai military officials would boycott an upcoming meeting in Indonesia and could be opposed to an agreement allowing military observers from that country access to the Preah Vihear border.
Thani Thongphakdi, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, said de-tails of the meeting were still being hammered out between the two militaries and, while he would not confirm that the two-day meeting would take place, Mr Thani underscored Thailand’s support for the conference.
“In principle, we welcome the meeting,” he said. “We hope a decision will soon be made.”
The Thai government said last week that it would join Cambodia at a meeting of the Joint Border Commission, where border negotiations occur, and a General Border Committee meeting, where security is discussed. Those meetings are to be hosted by the current chair of Asean, Indonesia, on April 7 and 8.
But the Bangkok Post Wednesday quoted General Prayuth Chan-ocha, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army, as saying that he and Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon wanted bilateral talks only and were unwilling to host Indonesian observers at the border, despite an agreement reached last month by the countries’ governments.
“Why do they want to enter the disputed area? It’s not safe there. The question is, if Indonesian observers come, will they be able to order Cambodian soldiers not to violate the Memorandum of Understanding?” Gen Prayuth was quoted as saying.
On Tuesday, Gen Prayuth was also quoted as saying he and other military leaders would skip the GBC if it was not held on Thai or Cambodian soil.
“We won’t go. We don’t want the meeting to be held in a third country,” he said.
The reports suggested that a rift could exist between Thai civilian and military decision makers.
Mr Thani claimed that the Thai Defense Ministry had confirmed these were “misquotes” and added that talks about the meeting’s specifics were ongoing.
“They had told us that they are still in discussions with Cambodian authorities about the upcoming meeting,” he said of the Thai Defense Ministry. “The exact location [of the Indonesian observers] is one of the issues that should be discussed between Thai and Cambodian officials.”
But the Thai news website MCOT subsequently also quoted Gen Prayuth as objecting to the observers.
“If the observers will really enter at the borders, I don’t want them to enter the disputed area, as it’s dangerous zone and will make it more difficult to solve the conflict,” he was quoted as saying.
Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Cambodian Defense Ministry, said the media reports showed that Thailand was attempting to conceal its “invasion activities” at the border. He said Cambodia was ready to meet in two weeks barring any changes from its Indonesian counterparts.
The news story “shows that they are afraid of the foreigners understanding about Thai invasion activities,” he said.
Indonesia has sought to reconcile Cambodia and Thailand by reconvening the meetings in Bogor, just outside Jakarta. At a Feb 22 meeting of Asean foreign ministers in Jakarta, the neighboring countries agreed to host the observers on either side of the disputed border to monitor the situation after four days of deadly clashes broke out Feb 4 at the hilltop temple.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn stressed that Thailand had no qualms with Indonesia’s spearheading and presiding over the meetings.
“We support Indonesia as a chair. Nothing has changed with that,” he said. “Our hope is to have these meetings as soon as possible.”
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, accused Thai military officials of “flip-flopping” and maintained Cambodia’s commitment to the agreed-upon meetings.
Gen Prayuth’s “comment in the media is not official, and we only obey Indonesia, which the UN Security Council delegated power to settle this issue,” he said. “We are awaiting further information from Indonesia, and [Prime Minister Hun Sen] has already declared if Indonesia calls for a meeting we will participate.”