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New Thai Government Prompts Border Questions

[Editor's note: A new Thai administration was sworn in Monday, including a prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, but a months long border dispute centered around the Preah Vihear temple area remains unresolved. VOA Khmer spoke with Cambodian Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan about expectations for Thailand's new government.]

Q. Do you think the new Thai leadership will bring even more obstacles to Cambodia in the process of negotiating the border issue?

A. I would like to tell you that this is the third prime minister following the conflict over the Preah Vihear temple area. What is happening now is that the new Thai prime minister has just made his vows in front of the Thai king, as well as in the Thai parliament. We see a [chance] to practice two goals. One is what we call international relations between Cambodia and Thailand, with an agreement we had already reached in 2000 through a memorandum, saying that we need to resolve the border issue peacefully and legally. Altogether, we had respected this, depending on the treaty and pact in 1904 and 1907 between the French republics and Siam at the time. If we look up to now, for Cambodia, the new Thai foreign minister said this is a [situation] between Cambodia and Thailand that continues to need solving. This is not just a Thai but an international obligation.

Q. Near Preah Vihear temple, there is a mountain with a guardhouse built by the late Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok. Now that mountain is controlled by Thai soldiers armed with rifles. The Thais are even building a new road across the mountain. If border negotiations were based on a 1904 and 1907 map, would Cambodia be able to bring back that mountain and some other land that is currently occupied by Thailand?

A. Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong has already stated during discussions that the basis of the treaty and pacts during 1904and 1907 by the French border committee and Siam at the time can be a basic principle to consider. So the negotiation is based on three basic principles, and one is a political principle. That political principle is that the Cambodian party and the Thai counterpart agreed to end the border disputes by setting border demarcation, since we've already agreed on this in a memorandum in 2000. So this is a political solution to the border dispute. Second, because the dispute over the Preah Vihear temple area, as well as border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand, are in a new political situation, the Thais are using this to gain Thai political popularity. So Cambodian land and a Cambodian temple are becoming hostages of internal Thai politics. Prime Minister Hun Sen obeys three principles, and one is that the dispute between Cambodian and Thailand, and the land territory situation, needs to be quickly ended through meetings from the low levels and up to the level of foreign minister.

Q. Has Thailand deployed new soldiers around two contested areas, Eagle Field and the Keo Sikha Kiri Svarak Pagoda?

A. Yes. There was a small number of Thai soldiers there, but Cambodian soldiers there already pushed them out. They are withdrawing now. Weare waiting for the working group of the joint border committee for Cambodia and Thailand to go to that area to re-examine, so at thattime we can find the exact border that we've already had for the last 100 years.