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Border conflict poses more questions than answers

The ceasefire agreement struck between Thailand
and Cambodia poses the interesting question of whether it signifies the
beginning of the end or the other way around. The ceasefire has been
reached “pending” negotiations that many hope will bring a permanent
solution to the border conflict.
In other words, the truce agreed to by the two sides with immediate
effect on Saturday at the Chong Sa-ngam Pass border crossing in Si Sa
Ket province is only a vehicle to achieving something permanent.
Opinion may be split as some might wonder if the ceasefire marks the
beginning of the end of the longstanding border hostility or whether it
is the end of the beginning of the rough negotiations over the bitter
border dispute with peaceful resolution from further rounds of talk far
from guaranteed.
The fine print in the ceasefire agreement comes across as supporting the latter theory.
Both sides must hold their fire and not deploy more troops. Fair
enough. But all these conditions could be tossed aside if the Asean
ministerial meeting tomorrow does not make headway in easing the border
violence.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cambodian counterpart, Hun
Sen, do not agree on some key issues, especially on a permanent
ceasefire deal.
Hun Sen has said Cambodia would urge Thailand to agree to a peace deal at the Asean meeting.
Mr Abhisit insists Thailand did not start the fight and it is
premature to talk about signing any agreement at the Asean meeting, a
position reiterated by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday.
With a permanent ceasefire unlikely any time soon, a renewed border offensive could be possible.
The confrontation between Thai and Cambodia is in a precarious
state. Each side has deployed about 15,000 troops in the disputed area
in Si Sa Ket. Heavy artillery faces heavy artillery.
The fact Hun Manet, Cambodia’s deputy army chief and son of Hun Sen,
came to the ceasefire table in Si Sa Ket as head of the Cambodian
delegation was apparently aimed at assuring Thailand the truce would
materialise. The Thai side led by army chief-of-staff Daopong
Rattanasuwan expected border clashes to ease but ruled out the
possibility of an immediate permanent ceasefire.
At 33 years old, Lt Gen Hun Manet, who holds a PhD in economics from
Britain, has been thrust into the military leadership. He has not been
widely accepted by the rank and file troops stationed in the forests
along the border.
Many Cambodian troops are termed “forest soldiers” who spend much of
their lives policing the borders. They are not considered by many to be
well-disciplined.
Lt Gen Hun Manet may not be able to command all of them, fuelling uncertainty as to how the ceasefire agreement is practical.
Lt Gen Hun Manet was in charge of the troops in the recent clashes
as it was his chance to prove his worth. However, the heavy losses
suffered by Cambodia bodes unfavourably for the deputy army chief.
The Cambodian soldiers are eager to occupy the disputed
4.6-square-kilometre border area. They may look for an opportunity to
launch a fresh attack on Thai soldiers who are abiding by the ceasefire
agreement by staying in their positions.
Observations were made that the Chong Sa-ngam truce may be disadvantageous to Thailand.
Cambodia recognises Thailand’s superior military capability. That is
the reason Cambodia proposed in the ceasefire agreement that the
artillery and armaments not be moved.
The ban on the construction of roads stipulated in the ceasefire
also means Thailand has to suspend work on a gravel road leading to the
disputed area to serve as a supply route.
Thailand welcomed the truce as the government feels that
negotiations are the best option. If the fighting continued, the
clashes would degenerate into war, which Hun Sen would use to justify
his demand for intervention by United Nations peacekeeping troops in
the disputed border affair.
If that happens, Thailand will find it hard to defend itself in
legal terms and maintain its reputation in the eyes of the world
community.
It is calculated that an all-out military offensive does not present
a solution to the conflict. At the end of the day, the conflict will be
thrashed out at the negotiating table.
However, negotiations after a war has been waged and the issue
“internationalised” will work against the interests of Thailand and the
country might possibly be seen as bullying its smaller neighbour.
The conflict would also heap even more political pressure on the government, which may not survive the crunch.
Bangkok Post
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Categories: Local News
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