Border talks a test for PM
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Border talks a test for PM

The arrest of two Cambodian activists and a political prisoner who had been granted refugee status last week does not bode well for a Thai government determined to improve its human rights standing as it once again competes for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Despite this, policemen show no reluctance when called on to arrest activists preparing to launch a protest against their prime minister, Hun Manet, who will be touching down in Bangkok tomorrow for an official visit.

Lest we forget, police led by deputy national police chief Surachate Hakpark already apprehended a number of Cambodian political activists early this year. Even though Thai immigration cannot and will not repatriate these activists, the crackdown only proves the Srettha government is prepared to go the extra mile to appease Phnom Penh.

Such accommodation is understandable. In Bangkok, PM Srettha Thavisin and his counterpart will discuss profit sharing on an overlapping claims area (OCA) in the Gulf of Thailand. If the leaders reach an accord on the 26,000-square-kilometre ocean area believed to be rich in petrochemical resources, the profits will strengthen the energy security of both countries amid the global energy crisis.

It is not unusual for neighbouring countries to share profits from overlapping territories as long as the state demarcation line is finalised and mutually agreed upon. Indeed, Bangkok has already joined hands with Malaysia in profit-sharing from a similar area.

Yet, this case is different and requires patience and prudence in handling it.

The OCA in the Gulf of Thailand has been a bone of contention between the two nations since the early 1970s. The heart of the problem lies with an unclear border demarcation along the shared 798km border, which was drawn over 100 years ago during the French colonisation of Indochina.

Scores of border areas overlap and need updating via joint surveys agreed upon by both governments. As it is, both countries are using different maps and milestones to draw a border that defines sovereignty and territory. The ensuing territorial disputes should, therefore, come as no surprise. One glaring example is the dispute over the ancient Preah Vihear temple, which Cambodia claimed following an International Court of Justice judgement.

Both countries have tried to solve the issue in the years since. An MoU between both governments two decades ago to survey the areas of contention again failed to put the issue to bed, while another signed in 2001 during the Thaksin administration to share resources and clarify the border was never completed.

Lest we forget, the 2001 MoU clearly spelt out that any maritime border demarcation and joint development must be carried out as an "indivisible package", with a Thai-Cambodian committee set up to discuss how to carry it out. Unfortunately, several rounds of subsequent talks have failed to produce an accord, mainly because of the dispute over the maritime border demarcation.

That said, the Srettha government must comply with the 2001 MoU and fast-track the joint technical committee's survey to clear up the border dispute and pave the way for an energy deal.

It is also vital that negotiations are transparent and scrutable. The government must not pursue a deal with the zeal of a market trader, as mistakes will only strain relations with our neighbour and see the dispute rumble on.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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