Wednesday, May 18, 2011

 Thai Army denies fuel export ban

Tawatchai Samusakhon (L)
Trade show a casualty, Cambodian report says


Wassana Nanuam and Nopparat Kingkaeo

Bangkok Post

The army has denied imposing a ban on the export of fuel and other strategic products to Cambodia in the wake of media reports that this influenced Phnom Penh's decision to scrap a Thai trade show in the Cambodian capital.

Second Army chief Tawatchai Samutsakhon yesterday said he was stunned by reports of such a ban published on Monday by the Phnom Penh Post and that he had never given such an order when there have been ceasefires between the two countries.

"I've really got a headache with this kind of news," said Lt Gen Tawatchai.

He admitted the army had earlier closed all border checkpoints when Thai and Cambodian troops were exchanging fire at the border in Phanom Dong Rak district in Surin late last month.

But this was carried out for the safety of Thai villagers and as a measure to "cut logistical support" to Cambodia.

However, the army only does this when military clashes are going on, he insisted.

The alleged ban became an issue after the the Phnom Penh Post reported the cancellation of the Thailand Trade Exhibition 2011, scheduled to be held from tomorrow until Sunday in Phnom Penh.

In a letter addressed to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh reasoned that the event should be postponed until the border tensions ease off.

But the decision was reportedly influenced by the news report about the Thai army's export ban.

The link with the alleged ban was, Lt Gen Tawatchai said, "a claim of Cambodia to pick on me".

Yet Lt Gen Tawatchai was still optimistic about improved ties between Bangkok and Phnom Penh as talks are planned to be held between the two countries' defence ministers in Indonesia.

The talks will be held on the sidelines of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) from today until Friday.

According to a source at the Thai Defence Ministry, the issue of the much delayed deployment of Indonesian observers to monitor the ceasefire between Thailand and Cambodia would not be discussed in the bilateral talks as Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has to wait for cabinet approval of the terms of reference (ToR) detailing the deployment.

The Thai government has insisted that Cambodia first withdraw its troops from the 4.6-square-kilometre overlapping area before the deployment of 30 observers to the border under the ToR.

If Thailand approves the ToR, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will resume meetings of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) and the General Border Committee (GBC), which are the direct soldier-to-soldier talks, the source said.

"But it seems the current government will not dare approve the ToR," the source added. "Hun Sen is also watching the stance of the new Thai government after the election."

In Surin, Cha-um Konkrai, the director of Region 3 Surin Education District, said about 50 affected schools in Surin's Kap Choeng and Phanom Dong Rak districts were ready to open for the new semester today.

Mr Cha-um said, however, they have also drafted short- and long-term plans to handle future border skirmishes. Several schools have sped up the construction of bunkers for their students and staff in case fighting breaks out again.


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