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Observers See Limited Role for Asean in Dispute


The stone remains of Preah Vihear, built nearly 1,000 years ago, are supposed to be a protected U.N. World Heritage site. Instead they are at the heart of a dangerous tug-of-war between Cambodia and Thailand.

The stone remains of Preah Vihear, built nearly 1,000 years ago, are supposed to be a protected U.N. World Heritage site. Instead they are at the heart of a dangerous tug-of-war between Cambodia and Thailand.

With the UN Security Council this week urging Asean mediation in the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, political observers are skeptical the regional body will be able to help.

Cambodia addressed the Security Council on Monday along with Thailand, and the international body urged a ceasefire and a multi-party solution.

That could be difficult, analysts say, especially because Thailand has maintained it wants two-way talks.

Asean foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Jakarta on Tuesday, and that could provide a useful venue, even if Asean cannot resolve the dispute, said Kem Sokha, head of the minority opposition Human Rights Party.

“I see Asean not as a facilitator, but only as an organizer for us to meet,” Kem Sokha said.

However, he said that without a third-party mediator, the status quo will likely remain.

Thailand and Cambodia have been engaged in a longstanding border standoff that erupted in deadly clashes earlier this month. Each side has blamed to other for provoking the fighting, and Cambodia claims Preah Vihear temple was damaged by Thai artillery fire.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday he wants a ceasefire to be signed at the Asean meeting Tuesday, with Asean foreign ministers as witnesses. Meanwhile, both sides reported isolated incidents of small arms fire along the border this week.

Cambodia would like to see Asean monitors along the border, even if it means hosting them unilaterally, Hun Sen said.

Asean’s ability to resolve the dispute remains in question, said Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

“There are different political tendencies, different interests,” among the members, he said. “So in our view it’s difficult to depend on Asean to negotiate this issue.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the ongoing dispute is a regional issue warranting Asean attention.

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