Parties trade barbs over Preah Vihear

Surapong denies giving up Preah Vihear fight

BANGKOK - The opposition Democrat Party has accused the Pheu Thai-led government of being subservient to Cambodia in the Preah Vihear Temple dispute.

Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut on Saturday expressed concern over statements by Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul about the case.

Mr Surapong has cautioned people to be prepared for any outcome, including a loss, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) makes its decision in October.

"If we lose the case, we lose [territory]. Even if we don't lose the case, it goes back to square one. That is, the temple belongs to Cambodia and the area surrounding it remains as it is," Mr Surapong said.

Critics of the government have interpreted Mr Surapong's remarks as a concession of defeat to Cambodia in the decades-old border dispute near the ancient Khmer temple.

Chavanond: Democrats ready with more evidence

"The current administration has allowed Cambodia to unilaterally organise the World Heritage Conference without putting up any protest," said Mr Chavanond, who served as a secretary to Kasit Piromya when the latter was foreign minister in the previous government.

Mr Kasit earlier was a high-profile member of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The strongly nationalist PAD believes the Pheu Thai government should not even recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ in the Preah Vihear case.

The ICJ will hear oral arguments from Thailand and Cambodia from April 15-19 in The Hague. It took up the case at the request of Cambodia, which sought an interpretation of the 1962 ICJ ruling that confirmed the temple was on Cambodian soil.

The Democrat Party maintains that Pheu Thai cannot escape responsibility for the Preah Vihear case. It notes that Noppadon Pattama, the foreign minister in the People Power coalition, a predecessor of Pheu Thai, was the one who signed a joint communique with Cambodia supporting Phnom Penh's request for the listing of the temple as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Mr Noppadon, now a legal adviser to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, claims he had nothing to do with the joint communique. But Mr Chavanond says Mr Noppadon cannot escape his responsibility for encouraging Cambodia to register the temple with Unesco.

Border tensions between Thailand and Cambodia reached a peak, with military and civilian deaths, when the Democrats were in power. Relations have improved markedly since Pheu Thai took office. Thaksin and Cambodian strongman Hun Sen are very close friends.

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (left) hugs Cambodian premier Hun Sen on Nov 11, 2009 in Cambodia. (Reuters photo)

Mr Chavanond has threatened to expose evidence to back his party's claims at a later time and reaffirmed that the opposition did not distort the truth.

He reiterated that the government had intentionally allowed Cambodia to gain upper hand in the legal dispute. 

However, Pheu Thai deputy spokesman Jirayu Huangsap denied that his party had any conflict of interest over the border dispute. He also pointed to the Democrats as the root cause of the problem.

Mr Jirayu said his party's leaders had no vested interests, adding that there was no way to know how the ICJ might rule on the disputed territory covering 4.6 square kilometres.

Mr Jirayu also urged all sides not to overstate the issue as it could be damaging. Instead, he said that the government would continue to make Thailand's case through the proper through legal and diplomatic means.

No matter which way the court rules, he said, the government would carefully consider its next course of action, he said.

He also called on the PAD to demand that the Democrats show responsibility in the case.

Sunai Julapongsathorn, a Pheu Thai list MP, also criticised the PAD for its hard-line stand on the ICJ.

Mr Sunai, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said it was not wise for anyone to propose refusing to recognise the jurisdiction of an international body.

If the government did what the PAD demanded, he said, it would mean that Thailand does not accept international law, and Thailand’s image would be destroyed.

He also noted that when Cambodia first asked the ICJ to clarify its 1962 ruling, the Democrat-led government of the day set up a legal team to pursue Thailand's case.

In a veiled reference to the ultra-nationalists in the PAD, the Foreign Ministry on Friday warned that Thais should be wary of the consequences if they want to defy the ICJ.

As a member of the international community, Thailand must comply with whatever decision is issued by the court, it said.

Mr Surapong on Friday chaired a meeting of the committee representing Thailand in the case, comprising the defence minister, army chief, attorney-general, the Royal Thai Survey Department, the Council of State.

"We have been arguing all along the ICJ should not tamper with old verdicts," he said, referring to Cambodia's request for the interpretation of the 1962 decision. "But from now on, we are preparing the public to accept whatever the verdict will be."

He said the public should understand the consequences if Thailand chooses not to comply with the ICJ, particularly the likely trade and economic impacts.

He was concerned that anti-government, nationalistic forces were exploiting and politicising the ICJ issue.

Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat said the temple issue was sensitive and the government should take a united stand to avoid confusing the public.

Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said that as a military officer who is duty-bound to defend the country's sovereignty, he was ready to fight if the country's territory is invaded.

"But as we are neighbours, we must live together peacefully. Nobody wants fighting," he said.

Virachai Palasai, ambassador to the Netherlands, said the oral hearings in April were complementary to the written statements that both nations have presented to The Hague. The temple, not the surrounding territory, would be the object of the ruling since the court had been asked to reinterpret its old judgement.

"We should not take it as losing or winning," said Mr Virachai, who said his legal team, comprising himself, head of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, three foreign lawyers and two foreign assistants, had received full support from the Yingluck government.

"We have been working with technical and legal experts and no one has interfered in our work," said Mr Virachai, who was appointed under the previous Democrat government.

Four scenarios could emerge from the ruling, he said. The court might declare it has no jurisdiction, or decide in favour of Thailand or Cambodia, or in favour of both sides, he said.

"As members of the United Nations, both countries have to comply with the decision, however it comes out," he said. "If not, the UN Security Council might be asked to make either side abide by the ruling."

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