Thailand believes that the issue of the ongoing dispute at Preah Vihear temple should not be raised at the upcoming Asean Summit, according to a copy of a letter written by Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya to his Cambodian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.
The letter, dated Tuesday and obtained yesterday evening, is a response to a letter sent by Mr Namhong to Mr Piromya on Monday proposing that the border dispute be brought up at the summit.
“The most important point that we should remind ourselves is that we should avoid raising bilateral issues within the Asean framework,” Mr Piromya wrote. “Otherwise, we would be setting a dangerous precedent for Asean and future Asean Summits.”
Mr Piromya also referred to an agreement reached during a June 12 meeting in Cambodia between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. “Both sides agreed that the issue of the Temple of Phra Viharn be addressed through existing bilateral mechanisms between our two countries,” he wrote, using Thailand’s name for Preah Vihear temple.
Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said by telephone that the ministry had received Mr Piromya’s letter late yesterday, but was uncertain what effect it would have on the summit.
“We are not sure at the moment, but I think Prime Minister Hun Sen may not raise the issue at the summit because of the letter this evening,” he said.
Speaking at a news conference in Phnom Penh yesterday morning, Mr Namhong had said that barring an objection from Thailand, Mr Hun Sen would broach the issue of Preah Vihear at the Asean Summit.
“Because this border issue is very important and without an official response [from Thailand], Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen will raise it at the Asean Summit as a first step,” Mr Namhong said, before warning, “The next step -and we do not completely reject this possibility-is that we may at some point raise the issue on an international level at the UN Security Council.”
In his Monday letter to Mr Kasit proposing that the upcoming summit address the Preah Vihear issue, Mr Namhong had referred to an Oct 8 report in the Bangkok Post newspaper which stated that the Thai foreign minister had proposed establishing “a neutral organization to settle disputes between Asean countries” that “may provide an avenue for Thailand and Cambodia to settle the dispute.”
Mr Piromya said in his written response to Mr Namhong that the proposal attributed to him “was a result of misquotation,” reiterating a statement the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry made on Tuesday.
“The [Thai] Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already taken action to correct this misquotation,” the letter said.
Prior to receiving Mr Piroyma’s letter, Mr Namhong had questioned this assertion, telling reporters yesterday morning that Mr Kasit could not have been misquoted because his remarks were also reported by the official Thai News Agency.
“There are two sources published as the same, and it is not a misquote. If it were a misquote…why did the Thai News Agency also print it and not deny it?” Mr Namhong said.
Representatives from both the Asean Secretariat and the Media Secretariat of the 15th Asean Summit declined to comment yesterday on whether the Preah Vihear dispute will be added to the summit’s agenda, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
However, the Thai News Agency quoted Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan as saying yesterday that the border row “should not be raised in the Asean summit” because it is an “issue between the two countries which can be agreed at bilateral talks.” Mr Pitsuwan is a former Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Asean summit will be held from Oct 23 to 25 in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin. Topics currently slated for discussion include education, climate change, food security, bioenergy and disaster management.