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Sunday, July 20, 2008
Time for extreme restraint from both sides
As the July 27 election in Cambodia is only a week away, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appears intent to play the Preah Vihear temple card to the fullest for his political gains despite the high risk of further straining the tense relations with neighbouring Thailand.
The Cambodian complaint to the United Nations Security Council over the weekend alleging Thai interference on its oil in the ancient temple area represents Phnom Penhâ€™s latest diplomatic blitz which was suspected to be part of the political strategy of the Cambodian government or, in other words, the Cambodian Peopleâ€™s Party of Mr Hun Sen, to whip up national sentiments of the Cambodian electorate ahead of the election.Â A few days earlier Mr Hun Sen demanded Thai troops to be withdrawn from the area adjacent to the temple, claiming that it is Cambodian soil.Â This was already rejected by the Thai government.
Aside from protesting to the UNSC, the Cambodian government also arranged for staff of the United States, China, France and Vietnam emgassies based in Phnom Penh to be flown to the temple area for an inspection trip.Â This came a day ahead of the meeting scheduled Monday July 21 in Thailandâ€™s Prachin Buri province between the military top brass of the two sides.Â The meeting was aimed to head off any untoward incidents which could spark off an armed conflict between the two armies which have recently built up their forces around the temple site.
All the diplomatic activities by Phnom Penh clearly indicated that the Hun Sen government wouldnâ€™t care less if such activities would impact heavily on the good neighbourly relations between Cambodia and Thailand.Â Also, it appeared that they were carefully planned.Â Which was sharply in contrast with the Thai government which has always appeared to be on the defensive.Â Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, for instance, kept on blasting the Peopleâ€™s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and blaming everybody else but himself for undermining the Thai-Cambodian relationsÂ instead of spending more time and concentrating on how to deal with Cambodia on the temple issue more wisely.
The border row over the Preah Vihear temple between Thailand and Cambodia should not have happened in the first place had the Cambodian government or the CPP not chosen to politicizing the issue ahead of the July 27 issue.Â The Samak government, too, deserves to be blamed for playing along â€“ for reasons which were not properly explained by the government â€“ by rushing to endorse Cambodiaâ€™s unilateral listing of the temple as World Heritage site only to back off afterward due to protests from the Thai public and the opposition.Â How the row will be resolved and whether it can be resolved peacefully is anybodyâ€™s guess.Â I only hope that the anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh some years ago which resulted to the burning and plunder of Thai properties in the Cambodian capital, including the Thai embassy, will not be repeated.Â If that is repeated, the Thai-Cambodian relations will never be the same.
The current troop buildup on both sides of the border near the temple is indeed disturbing.Â If my memory is right, the last time that Thailand was in a state of war with Cambodia was during the 80s when Cambodia was occupied by Vietnam.Â Thai troops clashed with Vietnamese forces on various occasions.Â The biggest fight was when a regiment of Vietnamese forces crossed the border into Thailand to crush Cambodian resistance forces.Â An armed conflict over the temple issue between Thai andÂ Cambodian forces will be very saddening for both countries.Â It should be avoided at all costs.