The governments of Thailand and Cambodia have ended their negotiations over the controversial Preah Vihear temple with a win-win result. But the way Thai agencies bungled the issue by trying to promote a better understanding of the deal with the public should be another lesson to learn. Not enough effort went into the public relations campaign. And what made the issue worse was that it became linked to politics.
Coincidentally, negotiations between Thailand and Cambodia over the 11th-century temple ended as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) began its latest campaign to oust the government.
The sensitive issue of the temple was also singled out by the anti-government demonstrators and used to attack the government by convincing people who have not closely followed the issue to come forward and join the rally.
If anyone has the opportunity to carefully compare the allegations and facts from all sides _ from Foreign Ministry officials to academics and PAD _ they would not be easily misguided.
Although Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has claimed the agreement as his personal success, he alone was not responsible for these international negotiations.
The staff from the ministry, especially from the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, worked hard for years to protect Thai sovereignty. Nobody realises how many of the staff at this agency have become sick from stress caused by intense border negotiations with Thailand’s neighbours.
They are the real heroes who have worked hard to protect Thai soil so not one single inch is lost to other countries.
These are the staff who paved the way for negotiations with Cambodia, which still uses the old map which includes 4.6 square kilometres of overlapping land with Thailand.
The map was drawn in 1904 by France and Cambodia has adhered to it since then, while Thailand has stood firmly by the use of watershed lines to indicate the border, which is consistent with international law.
Bangkok and Phnom Penh engaged in a hot debate in the early 1960s over the issue which resulted in the International Court of Justice’s verdict to give the temple as well as the land under the temple to Cambodia.
It was Cambodia which wanted to wrap up these negotiations. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wants to use this issue in his campaign for the upcoming general election on July 27. He wants the temple listed by the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a World Heritage Site. That is why the Cambodian government agreed to draw a new map, which leaves the disputed area to be further negotiated by the two countries in the future.
This made the Thai negotiating team happy and, in return, it supported Cambodia’s bid in the Unesco registration process.
Thailand is also satisfied that the demarcation in the new map conforms to a Thai cabinet resolution in 1962, which asks that the watershed lines be the borderline.
If the World Heritage Committee under Unesco agrees to register the temple, shops and structures built by Cambodians in the disputed area must be cleared for a joint management zone with Thailand. Then the burden will be on the Cambodian government to get its people out of the area.
This can be called a win-win situation for Thailand rather than a loss to the country, as some have tried to label the agreement.