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Tuesday, 15 February 2011
UN calls for 'permanent ceasefire' between Thailand and Cambodia
Thai FM Kasit Piromya (left) and Cambodian FM Hor Namhong in New York
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called for a 'permanent ceasefire' between Thailand and Cambodia after a border dispute erupted into deadly clashes last week around a disputed Hindu temple.
The council insisted it would not intervene in the border dispute, and encouraged mediation efforts by Indonesia, the current president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Clashes broke out on 4th February around the base of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, and lasted for 3 days. The temple and the area around it has been the cause of great tension between the two neighbours. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 1962 that it lay in Cambodian territory, but it did not rule on the 4.6sq km at the base of the temple, where the main access lies, which has been in dispute ever since.
Cambodia sought – and was awarded – world heritage status for the temple in 2008, despite the wishes of Thailand which wanted the temple to have joint Cambodian-Thai status. Border clashes broke out soon after, and tension in the border region has been present since.
Displaced people leave the border region
The most recent spate of violence was, however, the most extreme. At least 10 people died and some 30,000 people were displaced from villages in the border region. Additionally, the temple itself was damaged in one of the Thai artillery offensives. Both sides claimed the other side started attacking first.
Cambodia last week submitted petitions to the UNSC calling for international intervention in handling the issue. Thai, Cambodia and Indonesian representatives met with the UNSC in New York on Monday 14th February.
Council president Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil made the call for a ceasefire after a closed door session with foreign ministers of Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.
"Members of the Security Council urge the parties to establish a permanent ceasefire and to implement it fully," she said.
Ms Viotti said council members expressed "great concern" over the clashes and "called on the two sides to display maximum restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation."
Cambodia has been trying to raise the border fighting issue to the UN platform since 2008, but without success. Thailand has rejected third party intervention and mediation, and despite the current violence, it appears the position has not changed.
Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya, speaking early on 16th February to the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) said Thailand supports a 'permanent ceasefire' agreement and that the country could implement it soon after defense ministers of both countries hold talks.
"Thailand has proposed to hold Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) meeting on Feb 27 and Cambodia should express her sincerity to solve border issue by joining the talks," Thai FM said. At the UNSC meeting, he insisted the two countries could resolve the dispute themselves.
He also said that Cambodia's development plans for the area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple should be halted until negotiations on border demarcation could reach agreement.
"The listing of Preah Vihear temple was seen as the source of fresh tension and had frequently led to cross-border clashes," Kasit said.
On Sunday 13th February, Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva laid the blame for the crisis on UNESCO's decision to declare the temple ruins a world heritage site even though the land around it is disputed.
Cambodia has taken a tougher line, with foreign ministry spokeman Koy Kuong saying UNESCO was not to blame.
"The war was not caused by the listing of the temple, but by Thailand's invasion of Cambodian territory," said the Cambodian spokesman.
"They want not only the territory, but also the temple."
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen even went as far as calling the clashes a 'real war', the first time the term has been used to refer to clashes between Thailand and Cambodia.
ASEAN president and Indonesia foreign minister Marty Natalegawa is using the issue to try to raise the standing of ASEAN. His call for a "brief, urgent and informal" meeting with his ASEAN counterparts on 22nd February in Jakarta is an anticipation of a mandate from the Security Council for ASEAN, under his leadership, to take up "regional" responsibility.
A more systematic approach to conflict resolution and dispute settlements as outlined in the ASEAN Charter as well as those contained in the ASEAN Political and Security Community blueprint are likely to be discussed and put into practice.
In recent international security issues, the UNSC has often made use of Article 52 of the UN Charter to share burden and delegate responsibility to existing regional arrangements. ASEAN members have traditionally avoided taking collective responsibility, but it appears that is now changing.
Sources: Bangkok Post, Xinhua, China Post, BBC News
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