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Thai-Cambodian border clash an ‘embarrassment for ASEAN’

Thai and Cambodian military forces continue to exchange fire in their
border area as both countries lay claim to the Preah Vihear Temple and
its surrounding area although they have committed to a cease-fire a
number of times. Indonesian and Cambodian journalists, including The
Jakarta Post’s Mustaqim Adamrah, had a chance to interview Thai Foreign
Minister Kasit Piromya during his visit to Jakarta last week. Below are
excerpts of the interview.

Question: Thailand
and Cambodia have repeatedly pledged to maintain a cease-fire in
February and last Thursday. So why did clashes occur again two weeks
ago, with the latest last Friday?

Answer: To reaffirm for the record, we never started the clashes. We have no reason to be unfriendly to Cambodia.

First,
we are major exporters to Cambodia. Our exports to Cambodia make up 90
percent of bilateral trade [between Thailand and Cambodia]. So, it’s on
our interest to keep trading with and exporting to Cambodia.

Second,
we are becoming major investors in [Cambodia] in many fields:
electricity generation, [manufacturing] industry, tourism, healthcare
and construction.

Third, we welcome 150,000 Cambodian workers to Thailand under a bilateral memorandum of understanding.

Fourth, we are becoming a major donor to Cambodian development, education, social, health and infrastructure development.

Fifth,
there’s a growth in Thai tourism to Cambodia and at the same time, we
are a transit point as international airlines come to Thailand and
visitors take regional airlines to Cambodia. So Thailand is an entry
point for Cambodian tourism.

Sixth, we started and initiated the
ASEAN master plan of connectivity: physical infrastructure, roads,
railways, ICT [information and communication technology], electricity
and other things, inclusive of the Mekong River development, as well as
people-to-people contact.

We and Cambodia are two kingdoms, one
destination. Two months ago, we had an agreement with Cambodia for
Cambodians to enter Thailand without the need for visas.

The Thai
side of the border is heavily populated. Why should we fight when the
munitions fall on Thai villages? The Cambodian side is sparsely
populated.

It would be silly for us to keep shooting when we know
very well that artillery from Cambodia will fall on villages, temples
and schools as has been shown on television.

Last time we had to
evacuate about 20,000 people. We had to build houses, repair temples and
schools, and we had to build more bunkers.

The physical side
[construction] is not as important as the morale of the people. Between
30,000 and 40,000 people have been displaced. Instead of spending time
looking after their animals, growing rice and tapioca, they have to
sleep on temple floors. The damage is not only on the dollar. It’s
frightening to hear the gunfire.

What triggered the
additional clashes at two separate temples — 150 kilometers away from
Preah Vihear — where February’s skirmishes occurred?

From our point of view, the position of the two military units is about 50 meters apart.

Ten
days ago, we found out that the Cambodians had moved closer to the Thai
side and started to dig bunkers. So we told the Cambodian soldiers to
move back and that’s when they started to shoot.

How has Indonesia played out its role as chair of ASEAN? Is it failing to do its job, especially in light of the latest clashes?
We
highly appreciate the role of Indonesia — the seriousness, the sense of
purpose and the goodwill. So we do whatever we can [to cooperate].

I
don’t think [Indonesia is failing] because its responsibility is more
or less behind the scenes. No one expected that fighting would break out
150 kilometers away [from the original flash point].

The
conflict between the two countries is a waste of time. It’s a waste of
resources for the Indonesian government, for Cambodia and for Thailand.

We
have to respect and honor the role and involvement of Indonesia.
Thailand is not in a position to embarrass the Indonesian government.

It’s
sad for ASEAN that the two countries keep on fighting. I’m ashamed.
It’s an embarrassment to ASEAN that this conflict has dragged us to the
UN.

The Jakarta Post
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Categories: Local News
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