Saturday, September 24, 2011

Defence ministers agree on troops exit

Hun Sen broaches idea of prisoner exchange

Published: 24/09/2011
Bangkok Post

The Thai and Cambodian defence ministers yesterday agreed to comply with the order of the International Court of Justice to withdraw troops from the disputed border area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, but no specific date for a pullout was set.

Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa sharessomelight momentswith Pheu Thai MPsand red shirt membersincluding Natthawut Saikua, left, and Jatuporn Prompan, second left, and red shirt corememberAdisorn Piangket, second right, after they met by chance at a hotel inPhnomPenh yesterday.GenYutthasak arrived in Cambodia for a two-day official visit, while the Pheu ThaiMPs and the red shirts flew in to play inafootball friendly today againstCambodian government officials led by Cambodian Prime MinisterHunSen. CHANAT KATANYU

"We have agreed to comply with the ICJ's order and to allow Indonesian observers to monitor the ceasefire at the area," Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh said after a 30-minute meeting with visiting Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa in Phnom Penh.

However, he said no exact date for the troop withdrawal was set, as both sides would discuss this at the General Border Commission (GBC) in future.

See also: 1,000 red shirts head for Phnom Penh

On July 18, the ICJ ordered Cambodia and Thailand to immediately withdraw military personnel from the provisional demilitarised zone on the disputed border near the Preah Vihear temple and allow Indonesian observers access to monitor the ceasefire.

Gen Yutthasak said in Bangkok before leaving for Phnom Penh that Thailand was ready for the GBC to be held in November after the agenda is approved by the National Security Council and the cabinet as required by law.

"We are ready to attend the meeting with Cambodia once all the procedures are followed properly. The [GBC] meeting is expected to be held in November and we want it to conclude by the end of November," Gen Yutthasak said.

Gen Yutthasak also met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday.

He told reporters Hun Sen had proposed a prisoner exchange programme between Thailand and Cambodia as a way to help Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaibul, the two Thai nationals who are imprisoned in Phnom Penh on spying charges.

Hun Sen said the programme would not only help Veera and Ratree, but all 37 Thais in jail in Cambodia, mostly on drugs charges, Gen Yutthasak quoted Hun Sen as saying.

Veera and Ratree were sentenced to terms of eight and six years in prison, respectively.

The area around Preah Vihear temple has seen sporadic clashes over the disputed border territory since Unesco listed the temple as a World Heritage site on July 7, 2008.

This included fierce fighting on the border at Si Sa Ket and Surin provinces in February and April.

However, military tension has eased since the Pheu Thai Party took power following the July 3 general election.

The chairman of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) responsible for land demarcation, will be changed from Asda Jayanama, who was an adviser to then-foreign minister Kasit Piromya, to retired ambassador to India Bundit Sottiplarit, according to Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is in New York.

Virachai Plasai, the ambassador to the Netherlands and head of the Thai team which opposed Cambodia at the ICJ will not be removed.

But Mr Virachai and director of legal affairs Chatri Attajanant will no longer be advisers to the JBC, the minister said. Ambassador to the Philippines Prasas Prasasvinijchai and ambassador to Israel Nutthawut Potisaro will replace them, he added.

The minister said the changes could lead to quicker negotiations with Cambodia to solve the land dispute.

"If we have not changed [personnel], negotiations to demarcate the land boundary might not be finished, as in the past two years," Mr Surapong said.

But he said that he had no intention to overhaul staff at the ministry. The reshuffle would be made to replace 19 ambassadors who will retire on Sept 30 and their replacements would be made on a seniority basis, he said.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government has the authority to make changes to the JBC's staff, although it must also keep in mind that its overriding priority is to choose the best course of action in fighting Cambodia at the ICJ over the issues involving land and maritime conflicts.

Mr Abhisit said he wanted Mr Asda to remain as JBC chairman, as he is well-versed in the handling of the issues.

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