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Press Conference by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, 14 January 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

The border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, which erupted in exchanges of fire earlier this month, must be resolved through bilateral negotiations, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said at a Headquarters news conference today.

“We must use negotiations at all levels to move forward,” Mr. Kasit said following a private morning meeting of the Security Council on the clashes around Preah Vihear, a Hindu temple inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which had been damaged in the fighting. “Let’s have all committees meet. We are ready”, he added.

Because of the already extensive bilateral mechanisms existing between the two countries, there was no need for further United Nations involvement in the dispute, Mr. Piromya said. Describing the atmosphere in the Council as “quite positive”, he added that, in general, members wanted bilateral talks to continue, with the support of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to ensure the ceasefire was permanent and that the bilateral mechanisms moved forward. Those mechanisms included the Joint Border Commission, which was meant to settle the border demarcation in conjunction with satellite imaging and verification of border pillars and maps created by the French around 100 years ago.

He said he had proposed that the Commission should hold its next meeting at the end of this month and was awaiting Cambodia’s acceptance of the proposal, with the Security Council’s encouragement since it had been Cambodia that had requested today’s meeting.

He said another mechanism was the General Border Committee attended by the Defence Ministers of both countries, which should meet to confirm that the ceasefire was permanent and to agree on redeploying troops away from the point of conflict. Thailand was ready to fly its Defence Minister to Phnom Penh as soon as possible, he said. Finally, there was a mechanism that allowed regional commanders of both countries to remain in frequent contact, which they did because of cross-border problems including trafficking in drugs and persons, as well as illicit logging in the border area.

Minister Kasit noted said he had accepted the invitation to a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, to be chaired in Jakarta by the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, which held the regional group’s presidency in 2011. The meeting would focus in part on the border conflict, and it was hoped that the foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia could pledge to pursue peace and harmony while moving the other machinery forward.

Given all those opportunities for bilateral dialogue, all that was needed was political will, the minister said, giving an assurance that his country did not wish to see any more armed conflict, from which it had nothing to gain. Thailand had a genuine desire to see development and democratization in Cambodia, in the interest of reducing cross-border criminal activities, he added. “Everything depends on the political will of the leadership in Phnom Penh.”

In response to questions, he expanded on his assurance that his country wanted peace, saying that its troops had only fired back in self-defence. Emphasizing the importance of the creation of an ASEAN common market, he said trade between Thailand and Cambodia was growing and the former was an emerging donor to Cambodia’s development. A few weeks ago there had even been talks on eliminating visas between the two countries and coordinating tourism under the logo, “One destination, two kingdoms”, he recalled. “There was no reason we have to spoil all of this.”

Asked what the Cambodian complaints were, he said the leadership could be impatient with the pace of border negotiations, noting that, since that required Thai parliamentary action, it would take some time. He added that the World Heritage listing application had been made prematurely and Thailand wished to put it on hold until border negotiations were more advanced, as the maintenance plan would impinge on Thai territory. Thailand had wanted a joint application but the Cambodian side had rejected that.

He insisted there were no problems with the bilateral mechanisms, describing the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding that had put them all in place. It was appropriate that ASEAN help resolve the dispute because Cambodia refused to come to the negotiating table, he said, pointing out that, with the 2015 plans for the ASEAN community, it could not remain on the sidelines.

Asked why Thai troops had fired on the disputed temple, the Minister replied that Cambodian troops had been firing from inside. “You cannot have soldiers inside a World Heritage Site,” he stressed. He denied that Thai forces had used cluster bombs, saying such accusations were “diversions”.

Questioned about his country’s treatment of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, he said the situation would be resolved through “five nation” talks and mechanisms established by the Bali Agreement on migration in the region. Consultations with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were also ongoing. Enumerating the various flows of refugees on to Thai shores, he said: “We take care of whatever humanitarian undertakings that we have to.”

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