Thailand, Cambodia to explain border conflict to UN

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

BANGKOK/PHNOM PENH - The foreign ministers of Cambodia and Thailand are to present their versions of events in their border conflict to a UN Security Council meeting scheduled for Monday.

Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong confirmed Wednesday that Hor Namhong would attend.

“We are looking for a solution,” he said. “But we cannot say more because right now the issue is in the hands of the Security Council, so we must wait and see.”

The spokesman said he did not know whether Hor Namhong would meet with his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya while in New York.

Earlier Wednesday, Thailand confirmed Kasit would present Bangkok’s position on the fighting around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which erupted Friday and has left three Thais and five Cambodians dead.

“We’re taking it as a good opportunity to inform the Security Council what transpired,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said.

The situation at the border late Wednesday remained quiet but tense after fighting ceased Monday.

Sources said the Indonesian foreign minister was also expected to attend the meeting, which has been called by Security Council president Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti.

Marty Natalegawa - the foreign minister of Indonesia, which now holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) - has stepped in to facilitate a bilateral solution.

“In the final analysis, the issue between Thailand and Cambodia must be addressed and can only be addressed bilaterally because this is a border issue that needs to be negotiated,” Natalegawa said Tuesday after visiting Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

Cambodia has sought Security Council involvement to speed up a solution to the dispute over the area around the Hindu temple, which is perched on a cliff in the Dangrek mountain range that vaguely defines the border and has been a bone of contention for more than five decades.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice decided the temple belonged to Cambodia but failed to rule on a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land nearby that both countries claim.

Bangkok faulted UNESCO for exacerbating the sovereignty spat when it declared the temple a world heritage site in July 2008 despite Thai objections.

The decision prompted both sides to beef up their military presence in the disputed area, about 450 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, leading to several skirmishes since.

Thailand insisted the dispute should be handled by the Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary, a Thai-Cambodian body set up a decade ago to resolve border-demarcation issues.

Late Tuesday, Phnom Penh rejected as “slanderous” statements by the Thai military that Cambodian troops had used the world heritage site as a “heavy arms base” to fire at Thai positions.

Koy Kuong said the only people present carrying arms were “a small number of policemen with only light weapons to provide safety” at the temple.

Although some soldiers had gone to the temple to assess the damage caused by the fighting, he insisted their presence was temporary.

Cambodia has blamed the Thai military for shelling the temple and has requested that UNESCO send a team to assess the damage.

“I intend to send a mission to the area as soon as possible to assess the state of the temple,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said Tuesday in Paris, where the organisation maintains its world headquarters.

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