Home > Local News > Border Conflict: Cut troops, cut tension

Border Conflict: Cut troops, cut tension

Source: Bangkok Post
The reality we all have to accept is that closer relations between
Thailand and Cambodia will not come about overnight, though one must
agree that we are on the right track towards reaching that goal.
The latest sign of improving ties is a decision by the two
governments on a visa-free agreement. The agreement, which was signed
by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart Hor
Namhong during the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation
Strategy in Phnom Penh on Nov 16, will take effect on Dec 16.
It will undoubtedly encourage travel, foster people contacts and
bolster the tourism sector of the two countries. Thais and Cambodians
can stay in each other’s countries for 14 days without the need to
apply for a visa, as is required at present.
This visa-free initiative would not have been possible if the two
countries were still at odds with each other. Back in July, Thailand
and Cambodia were still on different paths over the management plan of
Preah Vihear Temple, which in 2008 was listed as a World Heritage site
by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation. Bangkok had blocked the plan on grounds that the
overlapping area of 4.6 square kilometres around the ancient temple
must be demarcated first.
But things have turned around, since ousted prime minister Thaksin
Shinawatra became no longer needed by Cambodia as an adviser to Phnom
Penh and stepped down from that position in August. That cleared the
way for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Cambodian Premier Hun Sen
to try to restore deteriorating ties at a meeting in the United States
a month later.
Although Thaksin no longer stands in the way for the two leaders to
improve bilateral relations, the present atmosphere is not conducive
for the two countries to sit down and search for a way out on the
management plan for Preah Vihear. But they still have plenty of time to
carefully and thoroughly work out the issue before it is tabled again
at the World Heritage Committee meeting hosted by Bahrain in June next
The decision by Phnom Penh yesterday to delay the opening of the
border with Thailand at the ancient temple underlines the sensitivity
of the issue. Cambodia has closed this portion of the border opposite
Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket province since June 2008, following
brief armed clashes. Recently improving relations have raised hopes
that the border gates could be re-opened one day soon.
Thus far, this has not been realised.
Still, what is more important than the border re-opening is the
serious effort to ease border tensions and prevent future conflicts in
the disputed land area around the temple.
Bangkok and Phnom Penh have their troops stationed around Wat Kaew
Sikha Khiri Sawara, located at the foot of Preah Vihear, to back their
sovereignty claims. The Thai and Cambodian soldiers there are on
amicable terms, though there is a certain amount of wariness.
So far both sides have been reluctant to reduce forces in the
overlapping zone. Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and his Cambodian
counterpart Tea Banh agreed in October to adjust the positioning of
their troops. But that meant nothing except moving the soldiers away
from one spot to another. And it certainly is not enough. Peace at the
border will be possible only with fewer soldiers – if not the total
withdrawal of all Thai and Cambodian troops from the area.
Categories: Local News
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