Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Restoration of relations with Cambodia 'a priority'

Restoration of relations with neighbours, notably Cambodia, is a top priority for the new government after the election, Pheu Thai leader and PM-in-waiting Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday.

Speaking after a meeting with representatives of four other parties, which are willing to join the new government, Yingluck said an urgent task for her government would be to restore bilateral relations with neighbouring countries.

She did not mention the country by name but it was widely understood that ties with Cambodia have soured under the out-going Abhisit Vejjajiva government due to boundary conflicts over the area adjacent to the Hindu temple at Preah Vihear.

Cambodia and observers in the border provinces expected a policy shift after the Pheu Thai Party was elected.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said: "It's obvious - we cannot hide that we are happy with the Phue Thai Party's victory."

When asked for a response to the election in Thailand, Hor Namhong told reporters that "we hope that a new government that will be formed by Pheu Thai Party will resolve the (border) problem with Cambodia in more positive and peaceful ways and that is what we want.

"Cambodia wants to see the conflict resolved through peaceful means, and justice for both sides, and in which international laws and the ruling in 1962 by the International Court of Justice shall be respected and used as a base."

Border traders at Si Sa Ket province said they hoped relations between Thailand and Cambodia would improve with the new Thai government.

Trade and tourism between the two countries has been poor over the past two years due to sour relations between the two governments, Hathachai Pengcham of Si Sa Set border trade association said.

Local residents in Si Sa Ket's Kanthalalak district, close to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, said they expected a new government under Yingluck would have better relations with Phnom Penh as her brother and former PM Thaksin was a close friend of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

It seemed Cambodian troops at the Preah Vihear temple celebrated Pheu Thai's victory too, they said.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerhead over Preah Vihear temple, as the Abhisit administration opposed Phnom Penh's move to list the temple as a World Heritage site, due to fears Thailand would lose sovereignty over nearby areas.

There was tension also over claims Cambodia was sheltering red-shirt fugitives who fled after unrest in Bangkok last year.

The border conflict led to a major clash in February in which at least eight soldiers and civilians on both sides were killed. The conflict escalated to other areas near Ta Muen Thom temple in late April and caused more injuries and further damage to properties.

The new Thai government needs to make many crucial decisions to solve the conflict as the dispute was taken to key international forums including the United Nations Security Council and Asean.

Cambodia has also asked the International Court of Justice to clarify is 1962 judgement on Preah Vihear. The outgoing government announced last month in Paris its intention to withdraw from the World Heritage body in protest at its handling of the Preah Vihear Temple.

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