Saturday, October 18, 2008

Some sincerity, please

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Cambodian policy seems designed to heat up the border conflict. The aim of a just solution may take time, but requires honest commitment and restraintThe clash between the Thai military and Cambodian troops along the border on Oct 15 has raised questions about Phnom Penh's sincerity in settling the border dispute through diplomacy.

The road to peace has been ruined despite several rounds of multi-level meetings between the two countries.

The two nations have promised many times in the past few months to exercise restraint. But Phnom Penh has failed to keep its promise.

Every time a clash happens, the Foreign Ministry has summoned the Cambodian ambassador or the charge d'affaires to protest against the Cambodian action, and they always promise to resolve things through negotiations. But a short time later, another clash occurs.

The fighting last Wednesday was quite serious - seven Thai soldiers were injured and two Cambodian soldiers killed.

After the Foreign Ministry went through its usual pattern of protesting through diplomatic channels, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Friday that the conflict would not end in war, that both sides would exercise restraint along the border and the problems would be tackled through bilateral talks. But what does that mean?

Phnom Penh's past record in keeping its word has not been good. And because of this Thailand has started to have doubts about its neighbour's sincerity. Asean members Indonesia and Malaysia have even offered to act as mediators.

The Cambodian government needs to show it is genuine about settling problems through bilateral talks.

Bringing bilateral problems to the international community or to the International Court of Justice, as earlier suggested by Mr Hun Sen, will not help ease tensions and instead will only heat up the conflict.

Cambodia became angry in July after the government opposed its request to take the border issue to the multilateral level through Asean members and the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council.

The Cambodians thought the government feared losing the case if it went to the International Court of Justice, which is what happened 50 years ago when Thailand lost the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in the same court.

In fact, Thailand has never feared taking a case to court. Thanks to many countries like the United States, China and Russia, as well as UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Thailand has stuck to its position and not played Cambodia's game.

The Phnom Penh government should know that the world has changed and no third country wants to get involved or support another country in a war against its neighbour, especially if nothing would be gained by that third country.

A key point in the conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia has been the demarcation of the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre overlapping area. The issue is unlikely to be settled unless border demarcation is finished.

Examples from other countries with similar border problems can be used as a model.

Until the problems are resolved, both countries must abide by their commitment and exercise restraint. This will surely take time, but a victory from the process will likely last longer than one derived from war.

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