Friday, January 04, 2013

Army chief ready to pull out troops from Thai-Cambodia border

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha

The Thai military has no conflict with the Foreign Ministry when it comes to complying with the International Court of Justice's injunction to withdraw troops from disputed areas near the Preah Vihear temple, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said yesterday.

The Thailand-Cambodia joint working group is now working out measures to comply with the court's order, he said, noting that clearing landmines was the first step in troop withdrawal.

According to an ICJ ruling in 1962, the territory on which the ancient Hindu temple is situated comes under the sovereignty of Cambodia, however Thailand has been claiming ownership of the area surrounding the temple. Then in April 2011, Phnom Penh appealed to the ICJ to interpret the scope and meaning of its 1962 judgement.

Conflict with Cambodia over the temple, meanwhile, has become a source of problems between Thai state agencies. The Foreign Ministry, which was at the forefront of defending the case in court, wants Thailand to comply with all provisional measures issued by the court since 2011. As a temporary measure, the ICJ ruled that both sides withdraw troops from the disputed areas and allow international observers from Indonesia to monitor the situation while awaiting court judgement.

In July last year, both sides announced an adjustment in the number of troops, but not in all the areas marked as demilitarised zones by the court. In some areas police officers have replaced soldiers and so far, no observers have been put in place.

The court, meanwhile, has said that it will listen to another round of testimonies in April, and is expected to deliver a final judgement on the interpretation later this year.

Prayuth said that Thailand and Cambodia wanted to show the international community and the court that both sides are able to settle the case peacefully.

"We can talk to each other and find a way to live together in permanent peace in the future," he told reporters.

He added that this bilateral agreement had been decided upon in a meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Wednesday. He added that the government will be putting together a team of public relations officials to explain the case to the public, he said.

Public sentiment was affected in 2008 when conservative groups like the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the opposition Democrat Party started drumming up nationalism with claims of territory being lost to Cambodia. There was even a military skirmish during the previous government's time causing dozens of deaths on both sides.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul express-ed deep concern about the court's verdict saying that they were not in favour of Thailand and this could lead to undesirable action by Thai people.

"Every country has to accept the ICJ's decision. Refusal to accept it may put Thailand in a difficult position in the world arena. It is necessary to explain to the public about the previous government's actions that made Cambodia take the dispute to the court," Surapong said.

He added that the Foreign Minister would keep the public informed about the issue, while officials from the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department would provide details to provincial governors nationwide so they too can relay the facts.

"When both countries become part of the Asean Economic Community, having a border will be almost meaningless. There should be no clashes on the border as both countries are neighbours," he said.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said Sura-pong's comments would discourage the Thai legal team in court because he made it sound as if the government was throwing in the towel.

He added that the opposition party suspects that the government will cut a deal over the Preah Vihear Temple in exchange for business interest in oil and gas in the Gulf of Thailand, he said.

The Democrat said his party will also give its explanation of the Preah Vihear conflict while it was in power from 2008 to 2011.-Asia News Network (January 04, 2013)

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