Home > Local News > UN rejects intervention in Thai-Cambodian border tensions

UN rejects intervention in Thai-Cambodian border tensions

A closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New
York on February 14 refused Cambodian requests that the UN intervene in
the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the thousand-year
old Preah Vihear Hindu Temple site.
Between February 4 and 7,
hostilities had escalated into exchanges of artillery fire that killed
at least 10 people—three Thais and seven Cambodians—and injured at
least 89 others. Thousands of civilians on both sides of the border
have been evacuated from the area around the ancient temple.
A
1962 World Court ruling gave sovereignty of Preah Vihear to Cambodia
but the surrounding land, which allows tourist access, has never been
demarcated. Tensions have been high since July 2008 when Cambodia
proposed that it be given the authority to oversee World Heritage
listing for the site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and
Cultural Organisation.
The Security Council session was addressed by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nambong and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya.
Hor
Namhong maintained Phnom Penh’s line that only international
intervention could resolve the dispute and that UN monitors were needed
on the border. He alleged that Thailand had provoked the fighting on
February 4 and launched a full-scale military assault on February 6
that constituted a “war of aggression”. He denied Thai claims that
Cambodian troops were using Preah Vihear and the nearby area as a
military base. He accused Thailand of deploying artillery and tanks,
and warned that fighting could break out “at any time”.
Thailand’s
Kasit insisted that the conflict could be settled only in bilateral
talks, without outside intervention, and accused Cambodia of
instigating the border clashes.
The Security Council rejected
the Cambodian calls for the deployment of an international monitoring
force to the temple site. Instead, the UN adopted the posture of
neutrality. Security Council President Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said
it had urged the Thai and Cambodian governments to “display maximum
restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation” and
had called for a permanent ceasefire and “effective dialogue”. It also
called on both parties to cooperate with mediation efforts by the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Behind the UN
stance is the competition for economic and political dominance in South
East Asia between China and the United States, which both hold veto
rights in the UN Security Council. Any UN intervention would not be to
secure peace as such but would be the means for advancing the interests
of one or other of the major powers. At this point, neither the US nor
China see any benefit from a UN operation.
Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Beijing was in close contact with
both nations and was keen to assist ASEAN in finding a resolution to
the conflict. US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the
Obama administration also welcomed intervention by ASEAN. He told
journalists that the US was undecided on whether the UN should become
directly involved.
By handing the border conflict to ASEAN,
which historically has had little influence in dealing with the rival
interests of its member-states, the Security Council exacerbated an
already volatile situation.
No sooner had the UN meeting
concluded than new skirmishes flared. On February 15, the Thai military
accused Cambodian forces of throwing grenades at a Thai position. The
following morning saw a more serious clash. Thai army spokesman Colonel
Sansern Kaewkamnerd claimed Cambodian soldiers had attacked a border
outpost in the Phu Khua area.
On his return from the Security
Council meeting, Hor Nambong accused Thailand of having a hidden agenda
to “use its overwhelming superior military forces to take over
Cambodian territory in the vicinity of Preah Vihear”. The Thai military
has reportedly deployed 23,000 heavily armed troops near the disputed
area around the temple, underscoring the potential for the conflict to
escalate.
It remains unclear who is behind the latest clashes.
There is some speculation, however, that elements within the Thai
military command initially provoked the latest crisis—without the
knowledge of the Thai government. The military hierarchy fears that an
early election planned by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would result
in a victory for the political forces loyal to the former prime
minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
The armed forces, backed by the
monarchy, overthrew Thaksin in a coup in 2006 in order to repudiate
economic policies that were opposed by powerful business interests and
the country’s traditional elites. Thaksin’s supporters, however, still
constitute a large base of electoral support, due to limited social
concessions that were made by his government to the urban and rural
poor.
The Wall Street Journal noted on February 10 that
“some people familiar with the situation say some members of the armed
forces and other Thaksin opponents—worried that elections might return
Mr Thaksin’s supporters to power—may seek to disrupt elections plans by
distracting Mr Abhisit with the Cambodia issue”.
The main
instrument of the military and sections of the political establishment
in stoking the border conflict is the right-wing People’s Alliance for
Democracy (PAD). PAD played a pivotal role in both the ousting of
Thaksin and the destabilisation and ultimate removal of the pro-Thaksin
government that was established after the December 2007 election.
Abhisit was installed in office in December 2008.
Members of PAD
illegally entered Cambodian territory near the temple site last
December to invite arrest and create a diplomatic incident. In the
weeks since, it has organised small but high-profile demonstrations in
Bangkok denouncing Abhisit for refusing to take a harder line over the
border dispute. Abhisit has increasingly adapted to the PAD campaign.
He has stepped up his rhetoric against Cambodia, and last week offered
to take part in a nationally-televised debate with PAD leaders.
Banham
Silpa-acha, the chairman of Abhisit’s coalition partner, the Chart Thai
Pattana Party, has insisted that the Thai prime minister resolve the
border conflict before setting an election date. Abhisit subsequently
announced that no election would be held before June.
The
domestic considerations of the Thai establishment dovetail with
concerns in Washington over Cambodia’s ties with China. While Cambodia
depends on US and European markets for its major textile exports, China
has become its major foreign investor, particularly in the natural
resources sector and infrastructure. As of 2009, Chinese investment
totalled $US4.5 billion.
On February 3, the US Congress received
a report from the Congressional Research Service entitled, “China Naval
Modernisation: Implications for US Navy Capabilities—Background and
Issues for Congress”. The report raised alarm over Beijing’s
efforts to establish a series of bases or friendly ports-of-call for
Chinese naval vessels. Chinese infrastructure investments in Cambodia
were specifically noted, including a rail-link. China has since
foreshadowed a major port in the southern Cambodian province of Koh
Kong.
Washington has already made moves to undermine Chinese
influence in Cambodia. During her visit to Cambodia last year,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the US was
“re-engaging” in the region economically and politically, and warned
Prime Minister Hun Sen not to become too dependent on China.
Hun
Sen appears to have heeded the message, amid the Thai military
mobilisation on the border. The Cambodian army announced on February 16
that it would send 200 troops to participate in a 13-day exercise with
135 troops from the US Army’s Pacific command and three other countries
it did not identify. Called “Angkor Sentinel 2011,” the exercise,
according to US Army Colonel Robert Dunton, will train American troops
for possible “humanitarian” work in Cambodia.
World Socialist Web Site
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Categories: Local News
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