Border conflict is one of the most pervasive and inevitable features of all social systems, however simple or complex, they maybe and irrespective of their location in time and space. Wherever it occurs, conflicts are significant, noteworthy, newsworthy and challenging. It produces acrimony, hostility and violence.
In this regard, all eyes will be on the UN Security Council this Monday when Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Foreign Hor Nam Hong, will state Cambodia’s case to the UNSC on the following:
• Thailand’s continued aggressive posture on Cambodia
• Thailand’s use of cluster bombs on Cambodia in last week’s fighting
• Thailand’s use of unknown chemical warfare (Toxic Gas) on Cambodia
• Thailand chastising UNESCO for agreeing to send an assessment team to assess the damages of the 900 year old Preah Vihear temple and pagoda by Thailand’s incessant artillery bombardment
• Displacing more than 10,000 Cambodia’s villagers by destroying the markets and their homes and making it unsafe by Thai’s firing cluster bombs
• Thailand’s intransigence on wanting to impose its unilateral will on Cambodia’s sovereign territory of Preah Vihear
• Thailand’s persistent rejection of international and multi-lateral intervention to resolve the border issue with Cambodia because Thai has hidden political agenda by trying to seize Cambodia’s land.
• Calling for Cambodia to withdraw troops while Thailand is building up her troops of more than 25,000 strong forces supported by more than 100 tanks and armored carriers, fighter jets and batteries of heavy artillery near Cambodia’s border.
• Thailand also armed her civilians with shot guns near the Cambodia-Thai border, thus hoping to say to the whole world that Cambodia fired on innocents when the armed Thais will become in the USA’s infamous words “Enemy Combatants”
• Thailand’s threat to pull out of UNESCO if it did not delist Preah Vihear as a World Heritage, showing Thai did not respect the World Heritage Committee’s decision to which Thai had provided its thump print.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has lots to answer to the 15-members of UNSC. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, in his capacity as chair of the ASEAN Standing Committee, will also make a statement.
History shows that Thailand takes on an intransigent attitude towards multi-lateral mediation or intervention in what is no more a bi-lateral matter between Cambodia and Thailand. Thailand, by its threats to UNESCO and also calling for UNESCO to delist Preah Vihear from the World Heritage List has forfeited its rights to bilateral negotiations.
This time Thailand tried again. It was hoping to pressure Cambodia to withdraw its complaint to the UNSC. Not this time! The world knew and was watching. If Thailand is indeed innocent of the above accusations, it should welcome international mediation with open arms as than, plausibly than, the whole border situation can be resolved once and for all.
Thailand would not want that? Thailand is fully aware that it had bowed to pressure from the PAD and invaded Cambodia, with the foolish hope of gaining territory and using it as a leverage to free the two imprisoned Thai spies and show goodwill by withdrawing its troops from Cambodian territory.
Fat fetched? No! The fact speaks for itself.
Cambodia has tried time and again to abide by the spirit of the 2000 MOU which calls for the Joint Border Commission (JBC) to resolve the issue. Alas, that was never the case as Thailand always used the JBC to launch attacks on Cambodia. This was no different this time around.
When Kasit was in Siem Reap to attend the JBC, Thailand’s armed forces were preparing the invasion of Cambodia. As the talks ended, the Thai army invaded. Why is this so? Because the PAD demanded the MOU be abandoned and Thailand use whatever means necessary to take Preah Vihear and annex Cambodian territory, just as she has done in the past centuries.
Thailand is fearful of international intervention. It is fully aware that if this dispute becomes internationalized, Thailand will lose face in the long run, as the 1962 ruling will be amplified and make Thailand look as if it is still crying over spilled milk.
So what can Kasit tell the Security Council that will make any difference? Nothing really, except accuse Cambodia of firing first, probably making hefty illustrations how Thailand was forced to take military action in retaliation for Cambodia firing flares into her skies to detect sneaking Thai army infiltrators?
How Thailand was forced to use unconventional weapons and 155 mm artillery batteries to take out these flare positions? How heavy artillery was used to swat Cambodian “flare flies” from the skies, and using that as an excuse to fire cluster bombs at Cambodian villagers?
Thailand should be afraid, very afraid. It has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar – invading Cambodian territory, prelude to which was Thai politicians and ultra nationalists intentionally trespassing into Cambodian territory, fact which has been openly admitted by everyone at Thailand, including the military and the perpetrators themselves by the incriminating video clip.
Indonesia has brushed aside Thai insistence on bilateral talks to "invite" all 10 ASEAN foreign ministers to discuss the Cambodian border problem. So has the UNSC.
Why is Thailand afraid of settling its dispute with Cambodia through intermediaries when decades of bilateral talks have failed? The practice of settling disputes through intermediaries has had a rich history in all cultures and society.
Cambodia has opted for international mediation as she is tired of the lies and aggressive postures of the Thai’s administration and army. Cambodia needs international intervention to protect (her) its heritage and more importantly, what is now the universal heritage – the Preah Vihear temple.
Any effort by Thailand to prevent international mediations from finding solution to settle the border issue is regarded as a travesty of justice, which against all acceptable norms.
It indicates all too well, Thailand’s intransigence of wanting to keep the conflict alive for its domestic political agenda, much to the chagrin of Cambodia, a victim of Thailand’s aggression and the world community which has chosen to stop sitting on the sidelines and get involved to bring peace, order and stability to the region and the two countries in particular.
Thailand should welcome this. Not oppose this.
T. Mohan, a long time political analyst based in Cambodia.