PM to push temple as tourist draw

PM to push temple as tourist draw

'Conflict issues' off the agenda for Hun Sen talks

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to discuss with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen the possibility of developing the Preah Vihear Temple as a joint tourist destination.

Talking to reporters on the eve of his two-day official visit to Phnom Penh Thursday, Gen Prayut said that tourism development between the two countries is one of several issues tabled for discussion with Hun Sen.

However, unresolved issues and conflicts — including overlapping areas surrounding the Hindu temple and in the Gulf of Thailand, as well as unfinished border demarcation work — were not on the meeting agenda. 

The two leaders have agreed to exclude these issues from their discussions in a bid to maintain warm relations between the two countries.

"We will mainly discuss economic cooperation, regional security and joint tourism development," he said.

He said he would also discuss with the Cambodian prime minister the possibility of joint tourism development at the Preah Vihear Temple.

"Tourists could be able to enter the temple from both sides, but we have to discuss the plans first," he said.

After border conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia erupted in 2009 — resulting in deadly clashes — Cambodia closed the entrance to the temple on the Thai side.

Tourists were allowed to access the temple from the Cambodian side, however.

Gen Prayut said he would discuss with Hun Sen the possibility of promoting tour packages for the two countries.

"I have assigned relevant agencies to design tour packages which will enable tourists to spend three days in our country and two days in Cambodia, for instance," Gen Prayut said.

Details of such packages would be discussed in Phnom Penh before the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on tourism, he said.

The prime minister said he would discuss with Hun Sen the possibility of including Preah Vihear as a destination in those tour packages.

Apart from the MoU on tourism, Thailand is also expected to sign two agreements with Cambodia. They include an MoU on cooperation in eliminating human trafficking and protecting victims, and an MoU on a railway link between the two countries.

Gen Prayut said energy cooperation would also be discussed during his visit, but the issue would not cover the overlapping maritime border which was a sensitive matter.

He said the energy issue and border demarcation work would be left to the countries' joint border committee.

Veerachon Sukhonthapatipak, a government spokesman, said the overlapping maritime border and the revoked 2001 MoU on the maritime boundaries were not on the agenda, but the government will study them for discussions on future cooperation with Cambodia.

In 2009, the MoU on maritime boundaries, which was signed in 2001 under the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, was revoked by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government after deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra was appointed as a Cambodian government adviser.

The MoU was signed to outline a framework for settling maritime disputes in the Gulf of Thailand.

"The prime minister has ordered government agencies to study a number of previous MoUs signed with neighbouring countries before he visits them," Col Veerachon said.

Chaiwat Kumchoo, an academic on international affairs at Chulalongkorn University, said he expected positive results from Gen Prayut's visit to Cambodia.

The visit would provide Gen Prayut with a good opportunity to discuss various issues with Hun Sen in depth, especially border problems, because Gen Prayut has military expertise.

Mr Chaiwat said the two leaders were familiar enough with border issues to reach an agreement on mutual interests, build confidence, and reduce mistrust between the two countries.

"Border conflicts are common for any country. The conflict between Thailand and Cambodia is negotiable at this stage, but is not the main issue at this meeting," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon is paying an official visit to China to discuss economic ties.

Gen Prawit's trip coincides with visits to China by both Thaksin and former prime minister Yingluck.

Gen Prayut said it was unlikely Gen Prawit will meet the two ousted premiers since he is accompanied by officials from transport and commerce ministries to discuss rubber and rice issues.

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