Home > Local News > Thai-Cambodian ties back on track (minus Thaksin)

Thai-Cambodian ties back on track (minus Thaksin)

Bangkok Post
By Thanida Tansubhapol
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The Preah Vihear temple: the surrounding land under dispute should be
left to the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission to resolve.
Relations between Thailand and Cambodia
are seemingly back on track – after two years of strain as a result of
the controversy over Preah Vihear temple and the appointment of deposed
prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as Phnom Penh‘s adviser.

The improved ties were reiterated in Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s remarks in an interview
with the media on Dec 6, that the two countries’ relationship had
“returned to normal”. His statement signals a good gesture for the two
sides to foster good ties once again.

And it has come at the right time, as the two countries will be celebrating six decades of diplomatic relations this Sunday in Phnom Penh.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will represent Thailand at the
celebrations in the Cambodian capital. Improved ties are what people of
both countries would definitely like to see. But Thailand andCambodia
still have sensitive issues to work out. These include the border
demarcation and the stalled development plan for Preah Vihear temple.
These two problems remain unresolved.

The
Hindu temple was listed as a World Heritage site in 2008 but the
development plan was blocked by Thailand at the World Heritage
Committee meeting in Brazil this year, as Bangkok wanted first to
resolve the issue of overlapping boundaries around the temple.

The
next WHC meeting is scheduled for June next year in Bahrain. From now
until the Bahrain meeting, the two leaders have to continue a dialogue
to find a compromise solution on the issue.

In order not to let the issue damage improving ties, both Thai and Cambodian leaders should separate their diplomatic relationship from the border problems.

A good example of this is how Thailand and Laos handles
their relationship. Bangkok and Vientiane enjoy good diplomatic
relations and various cooperation while leaving the border demarcation
to the Thai-Lao Joint Boundary Commission to handle. Border problems
are normally very sensitive and take time to resolve.

What made ties between Thailand and Cambodia more complicated was the issue of the ousted former prime minister, who has close personal ties with the Cambodian premier.

The
relationship between the two countries worsened after Thaksin was
appointed as economic adviser to the Cambodian government in November
last year. Bangkok recalled Thai ambassador toPhnom Penh Prasas Prasasvinitchai and Cambodia reacted in the same manner.

However,
relations improved after Thaksin resigned from the position on Aug 23
this year, and the Thai government resumed the normalisation of
diplomatic relations the very next day. Prime Minister Abhisit
Vejjajiva and Mr Hun Sen have met four times at international meetings,
and this has helped improve relations between the two.

Thailand uses the same strategy it pursues with Laos, for Cambodia.

Direction-general
of the East Asian Affairs Department, Pasakorn Siriyaphan, said the
Foreign Ministry maintains good relations withCambodia and lets the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission tackle the border problem.

Cambodia
now understands the legal procedure in Thailand, which cannot move
forward the border demarcation as the three memoranda of understanding
on the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission have not been approved
by parliament, he added.

It is
a good sign that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has understood Prime
Minister Abhisit’s explanation that Thailand has its own internal
process,” Mr Pasakorn said.

Under Section 190 of the constitution, the three documents
need parliament’s approval first to give Thai officials the mandate to
negotiate with their Cambodian counterparts on the demarcation issue.
The matter has been put on parliament’s agenda four times but still has
not got anywhere.

For Cambodia, Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told the Bangkok Post that Phnom Penh
will not raise the temple issue for the time being and has rather
placed its attention on how to strengthen bilateral relations. “We can
drop the Preah Vihear temple issue and focus on how to improve mutual
understanding between our two nations,” Mr Khieu Kanharith said.

But the temple issue still remains a time bomb awaiting challenges from the two countries.

A government source said if Cambodia
still proposes its management plan to the WHC, Thailand will keep
opposing it because the plan involves some area over which the two
countries claim ownership and the issue of sovereignty has not been
settled. “We don’t know ifCambodia will bring up the Preah Vihear issue
again because its next local elections are scheduled for 2012. If the
two countries can settle this problem diplomatically and do not let it
become a political issue, that will be good,” the same source said.

Mr
Pasakorn said one thing the two countries will have to eliminate is the
feeling of hatred which many Cambodians harbour towards Thais. “We are
doing it all [to create better understanding between Thais and
Cambodians] and I think things are moving along the right track,” Mr
Pasakorn said.

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