Hun Sen warns of possible ‘bloodshed,’ as temple tensions rise
Thailand yesterday denied Prime Minister Hun Sen’s allegations that it was willing to use force to resolve a bilateral conflict with Cambodia over disputed border territory near the World Heritage-listed Preah Vihear temple.
Mr Hun Sen on Sunday notified the UN Security Council and General Assembly that Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had been quoted in the Thai media as threatening military force in a dispute over a border agreement.
However, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said in a statement yesterday that Thailand wanted to resolve the issue peacefully.
“Thailand will not use force against Cambodia as alleged by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Mr Suthep said in the statement released by the Thai government’s public relations department.
According to the statement, “Mr Suthep said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be in charge of clarifying the matter and stressed that Thailand wishes to resolve its dispute with Cambodia peacefully.”
Thai newspapers reported yesterday that the Thai government was preparing a letter for the UN that would clarify its position on the disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple.
In a speech delivered in Phnom Penh yesterday, Mr Hun Sen defended his right to involve the UN and called for an international conference to help solve the bilateral dispute.
“We use the bilateral way to solve the problem, [but] the bilateral way is stuck right now,” Mr Hun Sen said. “If there is a negotiation, I propose for an international conference on the border issue between Cambodia and Thailand [near] Preah Vihear.”
“This is a serious problem. It could cause bloodshed,” he said.
During his speech, the premier also rejected meeting with Mr Suthep, who last week indicated he would like to meet him in Phnom Penh to discuss the border situation.
“If Suthep wants to come and talk, I will send Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong to talk with him…. If Abhisit [wants to] talk, I will talk,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he believed the international conference described by the premier would be a forum where representatives from all nations would be invited to come and hear a “transparent” account from Cambodia about the border dispute.
Mr Siphan said it was important that the conference not be seen as a judgment against Thailand but as a way of showing that Cambodia had abided by its international obligations.
Mr Siphan said he had no information when asked whether Cambodia had attempted to verify the accuracy of the remarks attributed to Mr Abhisit by The Nation newspaper on Saturday before Mr Hun Sen took to the world stage by engaging the UN.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, lead researcher for political and strategic affairs at the Asean Studies Center in Singapore, said by e-mail yesterday that he believed Cambodia had been cunning by appealing to the UN.
“Cambodia seems to gain an upper hand in the current conflict because it is a rightful owner of the temple…and Cambodia has been portraying itself as a victim of Thai domestic conflict, which is partly true,” he said.
Mr Pavin said he believed a multilateral discussion of the issue appeared inevitable but that Asean might offer a better solution than the UN.
“I always believed that this conflict has to be dealt first within a bilateral context, but this seems impossible as both sides are not willing to talk to each other,” he said. “If the issue has to be dealt with at a multilateral level, I think they both should turn to Asean, since both are its members and Asean has some sort of dispute settlement mechanisms in place.”
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said yesterday that his party welcomed the government’s decision to involve the UN to help solve the dispute. But he added that he was not sure if the prime minister would carry through on his request for international assistance, pointing to the government’s decision to suspend a previous complaint to the UN Security Council in 2008.
“There is no reason for the government to drag on with so-called bilateral negotiations,” Mr Chhay said. “We believe that, legally, we have enough documents to get support from the international community. Now, we want to see how serious the government is in following through on this.”