Middleman: Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is flanked by his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong (right) and Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Jakarta on Friday. Marty said Namhong and Kasit requested a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to discuss the Cambodian-Thai border dispute.JP/Ricky Yudistira
Sat, 05/07/2011

Adianto P. Simamora and Dina Indrasafitri

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thailand and Cambodia have finally agreed to accept observer teams from Jakarta to monitor a cease-fire in their long-standing disputed border area.

The deal was made a day before heads of state from ASEAN countries are to convene at a high-profile summit in Jakarta on Saturday to kick-start ambitious plans to integrate the grouping’s 10 countries into an ASEAN community by 2015.

“It is a done deal,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said after meeting Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on Friday.

He was referring to the terms of reference on the Indonesian observer team proposed by Jakarta after Thai and Cambodian forces exchanged fire near the Preah Vihear Temple area since February, two months after Indonesia took the helm of ASEAN.

“What remains now is the actual formalization of the agreement, which Cambodia has done. Thailand is in agreement, but we are waiting for a formal submission,” he said.


Questions remain on whether such a deal between top leaders can hold as domestic politics, especially in Thailand, could jeopardize any deal that excludes the military.

The foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia met in Jakarta earlier this year, agreeing to a cease-fire, promising not to resort to military force and to solving their problems through negotiations.

However, several weeks later, military forces on both sides engaged in clashes that killed dozens of civilians on either side of the border.

“I am afraid that we have to wait for the results of the Thai election in July to really have a solution to the dispute,” Rizal Sukma, the executive director of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies, said.

Prior to chairing the ASEAN ministerial meeting, Marty held talks with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and then Thai Foreign Minister Kasit. The two countries insisted on certain conditions despite agreeing on the presence of an Indonesian observer team.

Thailand wants the Cambodian government to first withdraw troops currently stationed in the Preah Vihear Temple area.

“Thailand has its own view about what is needed before an observer team is sent. Cambodia has its own view as well but as the country sending the observer, we believe we need to create conducive conditions,” Marty said.

Under the terms of reference, Indonesia would send 30 observers, 15 assigned on each side of the disputed border. The draft of the terms of reference, which remain undisclosed to the public, outline the authority of the observer team and details of areas where the team would be stationed.

“They are not enforcing anything, just observing. It is important symbolically to have the team to provide confidence to the two sides,” Marty said.

He said the absence of an observer team would result in continuing exchanges of fires between the two countries.

“The status quo is not an option. I think there is something wrong if we look to maintain the status quo,” he said.

Marty admitted that political and diplomatic talks between the two countries were still needed since each country had its own conditions.

It remains unclear whether the Cambodian-Thai border issue is on the agenda of the high-level summit since Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vevajiva indicated he had no intentions of discussing the border clashes with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

During the meeting Friday, ministers also discussed a number of issues including the establishment of a regional peace and reconciliation institution aimed at preventing conflicts and promoting peace in the region as well as settling competing claims in the South China Sea.

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