Why is there no peace at the border?

Again fighting at the Cambodian-Thai border, for days already – this time not close to the Temple of Preah Vihear, but 150 km to the West, along the long border which has never been marked with mutual agreement. Again people died, thousands on both sides fled for safety, and there is a lack of clarity about what happened, as both sides share different stories.

Reading many news sources, this is what I could collect (if it is wrong, I appreciate to receive better information):

Cambodian soldiers were digging a bunker into the ground near Ta Moan Thom Temple, in an area which is contested. Then Thai soldiers entered Cambodian territory – which is contested territory, and considered Thai territory by the Thai authorities – and “ambushed” them (actually there is no claim that the Thai soldiers were shooting at the Cambodian soldiers digging) – the Thai reports claim they wanted the Cambodian soldiers to stop digging a bunker in disputed territory. Reports seem to indicate that the shooting started only after the “ambush.”

Those who have read The Mirror before may remember that I have repeatedly shared documents (some not reprinted in the media in Cambodia), presented by the Cambodian side to UNESCO, since 2008. Some readers expressed their gratitude that I made some important Cambodian and UNESCO documents available – others criticized me politely, or attacked me rudely, for “producing Thai propaganda.”

Whoever is interested – it is a lot of material that has accumulated – can find it by making an Advanced Search on Google (setting “Search within a site or domain:” for http://www.cambodiamirror.org), and putting “Preah Vihear” (without the quote marks) into this exact wording or phrase:. I am emphasizing these sections like this to make them stand out – though this is not in the original.

Now I share what I have collected in relation to more recent efforts to stop violence around the Temple of Preah Vihear with international assistance. – It is important to observe the precise wording of some statements, especially when they relate to the border.

The Cambodian government had appealed to the UN Security Council after there had been again violent clashes around the Temple of Preah Vihear in early February 2011. The ministers of foreign affairs of both countries were at the UN headquarters in New York on 12 February 2011, where the UN Security Council listened to the presentations from both sides, and after discussions the Security Council appealed for a permanent cease-fire, and referred the matter to ASEAN, as the regional organization. At present the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia Marty Natalegawa is the chairperson of ASEAN.

Though The Jakarta Globe reported that this important role had been assigned to the Indonesian foreign minister, where Cambodia had “wanted regional observers to help impose a ceasefire on the tense border with Thailand after a request for UN peacekeepers was rebuffed earlier this week,” the Cambodian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Koy Kuong was quoted to have described the UN Security Council meeting on the matter as “a success” for Cambodia.

This action of the UN Security Council was an unprecedented act, as an official Chinese news agency reported:

The UN Security Council has, for the first time, called upon ASEAN to ensure an effective dialogue in search of a lasting solution between member nations. It’s also the first time the Security Council has taken up a bilateral ASEAN issue.

But also for ASEAN it was a historical first, as, until now, ASEAN had always been acting while carefully observing the principle of not interfering into internal affairs of its member countries. For example, in relation to the situation in Myanmar in 2007, when up to 100,000 people demonstrated for several days, among them perhaps 20,000 monks, some governments in the ASEAN region wanted to actively engage ASEAN in finding solutions before the crackdown – but at that time the Cambodian government was among those who opposed any intervention into internal affairs of a nember state.

ASEAN has historically struggled with the ability to influence the actions of its members. Sovereignty and non-interference have been the order of the day for the four decades of its existence.

But in this case the non-adherence to ASEAN treaties provides a clear-cut justification for intervention. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation demands that member states commit themselves to the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the ASEAN Charter stipulates that member states must “endeavor” to “peacefully” resolve all disputes through “dialogue, consultation, and negotiation.”

Now there is a statement designing the way ahead.

by the Chairman of
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

following the Informal Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN,
Jakarta, 22 February 2011

Following extensive discussions among them, the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and their representatives:

Welcome and support the reiteration by both Cambodia and Thailand, of their strong commitment to the principles contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the ASEAN Charter, including “settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means” and “renunciation of the threat or use of force”, as well as the principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations;

Welcome further the engagement of Cambodia and Thailand with Indonesia, Chair of ASEAN, in the latter’s efforts on behalf of ASEAN;

Recall the support extended by the United Nations Security Council to ASEAN’s efforts;

Support Cambodia’s and Thailand’s commitment, henceforth, to avoid further armed clashes as reflected in the initial high level talks between the military representatives of Cambodia and of Thailand, the most recent of which was on 19 February 2011;

Welcome in this regard, the invitation by both Cambodia and Thailand for observers from Indonesia, current Chair of ASEAN, to respective side of the affected areas of the Cambodia-Thailand border, to observe the commitment by both sides to avoid further armed clashes between them, with the following basic mandate:

“to assist and support the parties in respecting their commitment to avoid further armed clashes between them, by observing and reporting accurately, as well as impartially on complaints of violations and submitting its findings to each party through Indonesia, current Chair of ASEAN”;

Call on Cambodia and Thailand to resume their bilateral negotiations, including through existing mechanisms, at the earliest possible opportunity, with appropriate engagement of Indonesia, current Chair of ASEAN, to support the two countries’ efforts to resolve the situation amicably…

The Cambodian news agency AKP reported Cambodia’s satisfaction, as stated by the Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong, and the report continued:

“We will place our team members in both sides, in Cambodia and in Thailand. They would cooperate with authorities of the respective countries, ensuring both parties restrain from arm clashes,” Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister and Chair of ASEAN H.E. Marty Natalegawa told a press conference, flanked by all of ASEAN countries’ foreign affairs ministers plus ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan in Indonesian Foreign Affairs premises, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.

But – the Indonesian observers have not been deployed, because there is no agreement between Cambodia and Thailand how to implement the common decisions.

On the day of the Informal Meeting in Jakarta, there were reports how the Cambodian Prime Minister considered these proceedings:

“Signing a cease-fire is not necessary, but the arrival of observers … is what’s most important,” he said, adding monitors would be welcome to all areas inside the Cambodian border, from the front lines to military camps and ammunition warehouses.

The deployment did not go ahead, because the Thai government wanted to see the observers placed on both sides along the borders, inside of Thailand and inside of Cambodia. There was a report in The Cambodian Daily on 25 April 2011 which show the sticking point:

Mr. Koy Kuong [the spokesperson of the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation] said he did not know when exactly the observers would arrive. But the locations Cambodia says it has agreed to, seem to place them inside the disputed area, something to which Bangkok is opposed.

The Jakarta Statement of 22 February 2011 was based on a fundamental expectation: the ministers welcomed and supported the repeated declarations

by both Cambodia and Thailand, of their strong commitment to the principles contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the ASEAN Charter, including “settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means” and “renunciation of the threat or use of force.”

This strong commitment is not seen.

In view of the ongoing military confrontations, renewed day after day, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for a ceasefire, and he said the neighbors should launch “serious dialogue” to resolve their dispute.

Actually that is also what Prime Minister Hun Sen had said in 2010: Preah Vihear – Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Solution: “Dialogue, No Winning or Losing”:

Mr. Hun Sen said yesterday that dialogue was the way forward for the two countries.
“We will use dialogue to solve the rest of the problem,” he said.
“I don’t want winning or losing –
it is better that we have the win together in solving the problem.”

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