25th October 2008
“Cambodia has a lot to lose, because the agreement has given Thailand the de jure basis for a continued Thai occupation of the Cambodian territories. This agreement, if anything at all, has given Thailand, as the aggressor, a favourable publicity boost it needed to polish its already tarnished image in the eyes of the international community.”
At long last, both Cambodia and Thailand are talking seriously to resolve their border disputes because of the internationalisation of the issue and because of pressures from the leaders attending the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Beijing. Both sides, in particular Thailand as the aggressed side, are under international pressures to resolve their differences peacefully and amicably. Both sides, especially Thailand, who as the instigator of the conflict, did not want their image tarnished in the eyes of the international community.
In Siem Reap, both sides have for the first time inked an agreement, after four months of rhetoric, military confrontations and many failed talks. But, what does this agreement mean? And does it amount to anything worthy of celebration?
In any agreement, there is always the pros and the cons. On the pro side, the agreement will provide a climate conducive to the easing of border and military tensions. It would be a prologue to the building of a foundation for the return to normalcy. It can be a basis which will pave the way for a larger, future and comprehensive border agreement. And from a military perspective, the agreement has eliminated mistrusts, boost confidence and building up trusts between the two warring and opposing armies stationing along the borders. In short, on the pro side, the agreement is a testament to the fact that Cambodia and Thailand can talk to each other instead of fighting each other.
All the pros notwithstanding, there are the cons. This agreement raises more questions than providing answers to the present Khmer-Thai conflict. It did not address the more pressing issue and the root cause of the current border spat: Thailand’s aggressions and Thai withdrawal from the Preah Vihear areas.
The agreement is only an agreement “to ease tensions to create peace and stability for the people of the two countries living along the border”. It is not an agreement to resolve the border disputes, which are the root cause of the conflict. The terms of the agreement are superficial, vague and has no substance. It did not include any clause or reference to the withdrawal of Thai troops from the Preah Vihear areas. And with both sides have staunchly vowed to maintain their frontline position and with the Thai side strongly insisting that the deployments of their troops are “inside Thai territory“, coupled with the terms of agreement subject to the approval from the Thai parliament, this agreement is nothing but meaningless.
The agreement should create the mechanisms for the resolution and the withdrawal of Thai occupation of the Preah Vihear areas. It should set conditions for a return to normalcy, that is the pre-15th of July 2008 status quo, before the Thai invasion of the Preah Vihear areas.
From a Cambodian perspective, one must view this agreement pessimistically. Any agreement without any conditions for the withdrawal of the Thai troops from the Preah Vihear, Ta Moan Thom and Ta Krabey temples would provide a de facto recognition of the Thai occupation of those areas and therefore, the Thai de jure ownership of those temples. And the agreement did not insert any clauses and mechanisms in which to prevent further and future Thai encroachments and as well as incursions.
Thailand has a lot to gain from this agreement because the agreement did not cover troop reductions, elimination of heavy weaponry at the border areas. But most importantly, it did not address the root cause of the conflict, which is the Thai occupation of the Preah Vihear, Ta Moan Thom and Ta Krabey temples. On the contrary, Cambodia has a lot to lose, because the agreement has given Thailand the de jure basis for a continued Thai occupation of the Cambodian territories. This agreement, if anything at all, has given Thailand, as the aggressor, a favourable publicity boost it needed to polish its already tarnished image in the eyes of the international community.
In short, this agreement works toward Thai advantages in two fronts. One, the Thai side has locked Cambodia into a commitment not use force to dislodge Thai troops from the Preah Vihear areas in the future. Two, that Thailand has succeeded in presenting its good guy image and hypnotising the international community into believing that Thailand has done everything within its power to resolve the disputes amicably and peacefully, while in fact the root cause of the conflict has not been addressed.
From a Cambodian point of view, this agreement will come to haunt Cambodia in the future. Because the agreement did set any conditions for Thai troop withdrawal from the Cambodian territories, Thailand will use it as a basis in which to launch its campaign to stake a legal ownership claim to the areas that they have occupied, that is to say the Preah Vihear areas, the Ta Moan Thom and the Ta Krabey temples. And so, this agreement is not a cause celebre for the Cambodian people.//