Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Boundary issue likely to be stalled

No matter who ends up leading the Thailand-Cambodia Joint Boundary Commission (JBC), the task of demarcating the border between the two countries will never be completed if the Kingdom is unable to de-politicise the issue.

The opposition Democrat Party started campaigning against the reshuffle of the JBC once it learned that Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul had replaced the previous government’s man, Asda Jayanama, with career diplomat Bandit Sotipalalit.

Asda was made JBC chief in much the same way as Bandit, when Kasit Piromya, foreign minister under the Democrat-led government, had him replace career diplomat and legal expert Vasin Teeravechyan last November. Kasit never explained why the move was made and Vasin never complained about the move being unfair.

While Asda was in charge, the JBC only held one meeting in Indonesia this April and made no significant progress on demarcating the boundary or easing the strained relations with Cambodia.

Now, the Democrats are accusing Surapong of making the changes to please Phnom Penh. On Monday, the foreign minister said he would sue Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut for defamation – thus kicking off a brand-new political game.

Basically, the key difference between Bandit and Asda is their personalities. Bandit is moderate and soft-spoken, while Asda is a hardliner and speaks his mind. However, both are seasoned diplomats who have served at the Foreign Ministry. It would be very difficult to say who loves Thailand more and very unfair to accuse one or the other of putting a foreign country’s interest ahead of their nation.

The boundary between Thailand and Cambodia was delimited and demarcated more than a century ago, when the neighbouring country was still a French colony. Most of the 800-kilometre boundary is marked with pillars with the exception of areas near the Preah Vihear Temple.

Though time, nature, war and humans have removed these pillars, it is the JBC’s task to find them and, through negotiations, clarify the boundary line. The task is very technical and most of the commission’s members are technicians from both countries. Together they need to fine-tune the understanding of treaties and maps that were agreed upon more than 100 years ago. Both sides need to be flexible and ready to make compromises, otherwise they will never find common ground on where the boundary should be marked.

In the 10 years since it was set up, the JBC has made a great deal of progress and has found quite a few of the boundary pillars. However, the JBC’s task was politicised in 2008 when the yellow-shirt nationalist movement and the Democrat Party started voicing anger against late prime minister Samak Sundaravej’s support for Cambodia’s plan to have the Preah Vihear Temple listed as a World Heritage Site.

In reality, the inscription of the site has nothing to do with the demarcation of the boundary, but the Democrats and the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy accused the Samak government of losing the territory adjacent to the temple to Cambodia.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that the temple was situated on land that came under the sovereignty of Cambodia, but Thailand has been disputing this ruling. In 2008, then-foreign minister Noppadon Pattama was forced to step down after he issued a communiqu

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