May 7, 2011


DPA




Jakarta - South-East Asian leaders gathered Saturday for a summit on regional cooperation that has been overshadowed by an ongoing border spat between Thailand and Cambodia.

'If conflict occurs, ASEAN must be capable of facilitating a forum for diplomacy and open dialogue with the intent of attaining common peace,' said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his opening speech at the 18th summit of the Association of South-East Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta.

ASEAN members Thailand and Cambodia are embroiled in a border conflict over disputed territory near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, a World Heritage Site.



Fighting over two other temples on their border, Ta Muen and Ta Kwai, broke out last month, leaving eight dead on each side.

At the summit's morning session, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed that last month's conflict was caused by an 'invasion' by Thai forces, sources said.

Thai Prime Minister Abhsiit Vejjajiva denied the accusation, saying Hun Sen had initiated the border fighting in his ongoing effort to 'internationalize' to issue.

Thailand maintains that the conflict must be settled bilaterally, while Cambodia last week petitioned the International Court of Justice to intervene.

In 1962, the court ruled that Preah Vihear was on Cambodian soil, but did not rule on where the common border lies, giving rise to the current dispute over a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjacent to the temple.

Indonesia, this year's ASEAN chair, has tried to mediate a ceasefire by offering 30 observers to be stationed at hotspots along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Their deployment awaits an agreement between Bangkok and Phnom Penh over the withdrawal of all troops from Preah Vihear and disputed areas.

Cambodia refuses to give in to Thai demands to withdraw its soldiers from the Preah Vihear complex on the grounds that the temple is on its territory.

A resolution is not expected in Jakarta.

'If we are going for perfection in one blow, we may not go anywhere,' said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who implied that the issue of troop withdrawal might require more talks.

Hun Sen and Abhisit have vowed not to hold bilateral talks on the summit's sidelines.

Other issues at the summit include human trafficking, migrant workers, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, counter-terrorism and Myanmar's controversial proposal to chair ASEAN in 2014.

Human rights activists said ASEAN would be 'a laughingstock' if it allowed military-ruled Myanmar, notorious for jailing dissidents and other human rights abuses, to chair the 10-nation bloc.

Natalegawa said he would visit Myanmar some time this year to assess the country's readiness. He said the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in November after years of house arrest and recent elections were 'important developments' but urged Myanmar to push for more reforms.

As part of efforts to strengthen the group's role in conflict resolution, Indonesia has proposed the establishment of an ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, Natalegawa said.

The second of the two annual ASEAN summits is scheduled for November in Bali.

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