Last week was one for Pheu Thai Party politicians plus Thaksin Shinawatra to remember. But it was a week that desk officials really want to forget.
Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat came back from Preah Vihear temple with a smile on his face. The ex-air force officer believed the working lunch he had with his Cambodian counterpart, Tea Banh, had sent a message from the Thai-Cambodian border to The Hague, where the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is based, that the two countries could live amicably despite their row over the land at the temple.
ACM Sukumpol calmed his critics _ including the Foreign Ministry which gave a polite warning _ who he said were over-reacting to the possible implications of his trip on the court battle between the Thai and Cambodian capitals over the territorial dispute which encompasses a mere 4.6 square kilometres.
Credit should go to those shouting the loudest about that border trip, not the defence minister. The battle at the world court is coming to a crucial stage with the oral hearing on the dispute due to take place next month. Cambodia has asked the court to decide on the ownership of the land based on its ruling back in 1962 which handed Preah Vihear to Thailand's neighbour.
The controversial plot of land should be left untouched as every move and sentiment involving the issue is being closely watched by the judges and their staff members in the Netherlands. A minor misstep by ACM Sukumpol could shape the court's decision against Thailand.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been playing a psychological war on the issue for domestic consumption ahead of a general election and for international sympathy by painting Thailand as the bad guy in the international arena. Phnom Penh revealed the shocking figures of 45 loggers killed at the border last year. And Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan did not forget to remind everyone that Phnom Penh ''does not support criminals, but we do support a civilised judgement against human beings in accordance with the law''.
The news has already damaged the kingdom, and it was even more shocking not to hear a sharp reaction from Bangkok denying the story, which will probably be the last sent by Phnom Penh to the world. It seems unlikely now that bilateral ties between the two countries will be further disturbed, unlike the time when ties were soured during the Democrat Party's control of Government House _ as ACM Sukumpol said. But national interest always comes first and foremost.
Like the defence minister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra returned last week from Malaysia with a smile _ but it was even broader. ACM Sukumpol did not make history with his lunch with Gen Tea Banh, but Ms Yingluck's government did when National Security Council chief Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabutr put pen to paper with Hassan Taib of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).
Efforts to resolve the insurgency in the deep South will not be the same as a result of the two signatures. The agreement in effect recognises militants for the first time as a partner in talks in a big gamble by the government to end the violence. The talks with the BRN on how to open a peace dialogue will begin in two weeks and several rounds will follow. At the end of the day the government expects not to leave the negotiating room empty-handed and without having set a path for peace _ just as long as the group is the right target of the government and can order young insurgents to lay down their weapons.
What is more worrying is the strong stance by Thailand in insisting that the trouble in the southern border region is a domestic affair to prevent interference from outsiders. That is no longer valid as Malaysia has now been invited to act as a facilitator in seeking peace. That will give officials in Bangkok and on the ground more headaches in handling the issue.
The only obvious reward for Ms Yingluck from the Malaysian trip was to win praise for her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, for engineering the signing of the pact in order to redeem himself from perceived indifference to the South and his poor calculation a decade ago which led to the return of violence in 2004.
But the one who is enjoying the most benefit from the event is undoubtedly Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as it has boosted his profile ahead of Malaysia's forthcoming general election.
Bilateral relations between Thailand and Malaysia are stable. But the national interest comes first and foremost. The talks still might collapse, causing the violence to continue, but at least Mr Najib can show Malaysian voters that his government has been asked to help its northern neighbour.
Saritdet Marukatat is Digital Media News Editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Saritdet Marukatat
Position: Opinion-Editorial Pages Editor