Prepared to ask for US assistance if Vietnam troops sent to Preah Vihear
A recently released confidential cable issued by the US Embassy in Bangkok reveals that Thailand in 2008 feared that Vietnam would provide military support to Cambodia in its dispute over Preah Vihear temple. The cable also states that Thailand informed the embassy in Bangkok that it would invoke a treaty with the US requiring Washington’s military help if Vietnam provided military assistance to Cambodia.
According to the cable, released by anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks last week, then-Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Virasakdi Futrakul told then-US Ambassador Eric John that the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh had received reports that Vietnamese troops had started moving into Cambodia with the aim of supporting its efforts over Preah Vihear.
“The [Royal Thai Government] was also attempting to verify a report that Cambodia had recently obtained 19 fighter jets that were based at a Vietnamese airbase and would be flown by Vietnamese pilots in support of Cambodia in case of war with Thailand,” the Oct 14, 2008 cable said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that he was aware of Thailand’s claims of Vietnamese military support to Cambodia, but categorized them as “baseless.”
“We call it manipulated information,” he said.
“We have no intention or never have an idea of looking for help from foreigners to solve problems of violence as is spelt out clearly in the Cambodian Constitution,” he added.
The 2008 cable was issued a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen gave Thailand an ultimatum to withdraw troops from the disputed stretch of the border within 24 hours or risk turning the area into a “death zone.”
Mr Virasakdi informed the US Embassy of his concerns after he had returned from Phnom Penh where he had met with Mr Hun Sen on Oct 13, 2008.
“Thai MFA Permanent Secretary Virasakdi Futrakul told the Ambassador October 13 that the border dispute with Cambodia had become serious,” the cable stated.
Mr Virasakdi went on to tell the Ambassador that Thailand may be required to invoke the 1954 Manila (SEATO) Treaty, intended to create alliances that would contain communist powers, and the Rusk-Thanat Communique, if Vietnam helped Cambodia in a military conflict with Thailand.
“The Rusk-Thanat Communique of 1962, which clarified US commitment to Thailand, states that the US would assist Thailand ‘in case of Communist armed attack against that country,'” according to the cable, which stated that the US was “obviously nowhere near invoking the various agreements with the” Thai government.
However, not everyone believed at the time that Vietnam would support Cambodia in a military conflict with Thailand.
According to the cable, Colonel Saranyu Viriyavejakul, Aide de Camp to Thai army Commander General Anupong Paochinda, had told the US Embassy that reports of Vietnamese troops readying themselves to aid Cambodia were likely produced by the Cambodian government.
“Colonel Saranyu told us that he had read a report that 3,000 Vietnamese troops were supporting or even possibly would fight alongside Cambodian troops but that he doubted the source of the report,” the cable said. “Saranyu believed that the Cambodian government may have planted the report in order to create the impression that Cambodia had regional backing in the border conflict.”
Mr Siphan also denied yesterday that Cambodia had planted the report of Vietnamese units poised to fight in the Preah Vihear temple conflict.
The US Embassy in Bangkok, according to the cable, also did not believe that Vietnam would send troops, and reported that Thailand-Vietnam relations were good.
“[W]e see nothing to give credence to the MFA Permanent Secretary’s assertions that Vietnam is prepared to enter the fray militarily to support Cambodia. In sum, the Thai Foreign Ministry seems more worked up about this latest development in the Thai-Cambodia border dispute than the Thai military,” the cable states.