Monday, May 09, 2011 11:44 AM
Thu, 05/12/2011

Abdul Khalik and Sita Winiawati Dewi
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta


Following the tension between Thailand and Cambodia over the border dispute that became even more public during the ASEAN Summit plenary session on Saturday, the prime ministers of both countries talked to the press separately on Sunday.

The following are excerpts of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s statement to the press.

Everyone knows that the problems on the Cambodian-Thai border have been on the ASEAN radar screen and have created a challenge for ASEAN, which is now working toward building an integrated community by the year of 2015.

Within the ASEAN spirit, the chair of ASEAN has been trying to work this issue out since February until now. In Feb. 22 the foreign ministers made a decision to send Indonesian observers to Cambodia and Thailand in the disputed area.

Cambodia accepts its responsibility and therefore immediately responds to the Terms of Reference (TOR) drafted by Indonesia as the chair of ASEAN. Cambodia signed the TOR letter of acceptance related to the role of observers and the responsibility of both countries.

Thailand did not sign, but proposed a condition that Cambodia withdraw its troops and its people from their own territory.

The Foreign Minister of Cambodia rejects the condition because the withdrawal of Cambodian troops and people from our own territory is not acceptable. So, yesterday there was tension at the plenary meeting.

Cambodia raised this issue, not to create a problem, but to solve the problem. The issue had been raised and the chair of ASEAN has undertaken the highest consideration this morning. We could have a bilateral meeting, in which on one side there would be Cambodia, Thailand on the other side, and in the middle the President of Indonesia as the acting ASEAN chair.

The discussion is not just between the Cambodian and Thailand prime ministers, but there is also the participation of the President of Indonesia by providing recommendations and suggestions.

At the end (of the discussion) the President of Indonesia provided a recommendation, and this recommendation has been accepted by the prime ministers of Cambodia and Thailand.

So, the foreign ministers of Cambodia and Thailand will stay another day to work with the foreign minister of Indonesia. This is the role of the chair of ASEAN, which provided recommendations to finding solutions.

The Cambodian position is that Indonesian observers should be sent to Cambodia and Thailand. After that, we can immediately have the meeting of the general border committee. Once Thailand signs, we can start the meeting immediately, one day after that or one hour after that.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva talked to The Jakarta Post’s Abdul Khalik and Sita Winiawati Dewi after the closing of the summit on Sunday afternoon. Below are excerpts from the interview:

In his opening remarks, President SBY mentioned that we have to solve our problems internally first before we can play a larger role. How do you see this present Thai–Cambodian situation being resolved?

The issue is complex. It is not new, and unfortunately is not helped by Cambodian intentions to internationalize or escalate the issue. Thailand wants to see ASEAN family members solve problems among themselves. Ultimately, that is also a problem that is best solved by the parties who are direct to the dispute.

Our friends, because we are part of the family, and the family can help, can facilitate, but the decision rests really with the two parties.

In the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, ultimately the two parties have to work it out among themselves. ASEAN would be there to help, to make sure there is a peaceful environment and that there are factors that are conducive for the two sides to talk and seek resolution.

Does that include Indonesian observers coming to the border?

Yes, that’s part of the measures that Indonesia has offered and, in principal, that has been accepted by both sides. But the finalization and the implementation of that would have to take into account other factors as well, such as the need for a clear military presence at the temple, and so on.

How was your meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen and President SBY this morning?

The atmosphere was better than yesterday, when he suddenly launched into a long speech during the plenary session. But you know, differences remain. That has to be recognized, and the complexity remains, but at least we are talking, which is important. There were good exchanges through the media and we’ll see how the foreign ministers who have been tasked with the follow-up do.

Many said that this border dispute was also influenced by domestic politics, especially in Thailand. What is your response to this?

Well, I can’t speak for Cambodia, but you know in all countries, Thailand included, there is always an element or group of nationalists that can have a very strong nationalistic feelings.

They’re part of society. But my government has clearly demonstrated that we listen to them, and we would do what is best and what is necessary in the interests of the country and we protect our sovereignty and we protect our territory. But we want to do so in a manner that would not affect the livelihood of our people and the Cambodian people who live along the border.

Because they are direct stakeholders, we should be accountable to them, as much as to any interest group or any organization that might want to see other means of solving problems. So we listen to them. We don’t always agree with them. We don’t always respond to them because we are accountable to all the people in Thailand. Some of the things might make it more difficult, politically, but the government is always determined to do what is right.

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