Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Thais floundering on Cambodian relations
The government seems to have run out of ideas for restoring ties with Cambodia, because once again the Foreign Ministry has rolled out old stuff re-packaged as a so-called "new plan".
The first meeting between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen after months of diplomatic rows produced nothing useful either.
The latest plan announced a few days ago encourages local civilian and military authorities as well as central government agencies to come up with activities that will boost ties with Cambodia. The activities such as cultural events, sports competitions, media and academic exchanges and economic assistance is really old wine in new bottle and does not address the actual reason for the breakdown of relations.
Frankly speaking, the poor relations between Thailand and Cambodia over the past years mostly was caused by the government and its political supporters.
Ordinary citizens living on either side of the border, local authorities and even the military have had no problems over the past few months. Relations at this end are normal, even though the two governments are at loggerheads.
The only two issues making relations with Cambodia sour are former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the controversial Hindu temple of Preah Vihear.
Thaksin's relationship with the Cambodian government seems to be a problem for Abhisit's government, not the country. The government was angered when the former PM was made economic adviser to the Cambodian government and Hun Sen last year. Abhisit used all his means, including the downgrading of diplomatic ties, to force Thaksin to step down.
Thaksin eventually relented and resigned as adviser to Cambodia in August. Then Abhisit agreed to reinstate the Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh and Hun Sen reciprocated.
However, the problem with the Preah Vihear Temple is a bit more complicated because Abhisit's government has been addressing the issue in quite the wrong way. With pressure from nationalist groups, the government mixed up the World Heritage Site inscription of Preah Vihear with boundary disputes in the area adjacent to the temple.
The government has used resources and great effort in opposing the inscription of Preah Vihear on grounds that it feared losing sovereignty over the surrounding areas.
Although there is no real implication, Phnom Penh is clearly dissatisfied with Thailand's moves to delay the World Heritage Committee's consideration of the Preah Vihear management plan.
Abhisit wants the dispute over the 4.6 square kilometres surrounding the temple to be settled before accepting a management deal for the site.
One of most effective ways to settle the boundary dispute, at least for now, would be to allow the joint boundary committee (JBC) to do its job of demarcation. The committee is merely waiting for a Parliament approval of its minutes from three previous meetings.
The last meeting was in April 2009, but the minutes of this meeting were not proposed to the Parliament. There should be no problems in making the proposal, but the government does not dare put it forward for fear of pressure from nationalist groups.
The group under the umbrella of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which helped install this government, demanded that the authorities scrap the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2000 on the boundary demarcation with Cambodia.
The MoU, a basic legal instrument for the JBC, signed when Democrat Chuan Leekpai was in power, recognised the French-made map that showed the Hindu temple as situated on Cambodian territory.
What the government will possibly do now is use delaying tactics to keep JBC's minutes from being read in Parliament. It could hold a series of public hearings on the document after sitting on it for a year and a half.
Obviously, this tactic will do nothing for the bilateral relations, when the government should really let the JBC to resume its job quickly.
A new plan is unnecessary. (The Nation, Bangkok)