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2000 Border Agreement a Disadvantage: Expert

A 2000 border agreement signed between Cambodia and Thailand is not likely to yield results in longstanding disputes, a former minister told VOA Khmer.

The agreement put Cambodia at a disadvantage, and border negotiations will face endless crises, said Sean Pengse, former Minister of Industry and a border expert.

After Cambodia regained peace and the reintegration of Khmer Rouge fighters into society, border trade flourished, and the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2000.

However, it would have been better for Cambodia to negotiate on the border from a position of a 1962 international court decision, which “set a clear border with no white zones,” Sean Pengse said. “Why are there now white zones? Why should Cambodia neogtiate? I believe Cambodia’s voice in the negotiation is useless, because we beg aid form them. Our country is small, and we should use international law, from which we previously had an advantage.”

The 2000 agreement led to the white zones, or disputed areas, he said, giving Thailand the chance to argue against rebuilding a market near Preah Vihear temple.

The temple is at the center of a military border standoff that has claimed seven lives so far. The market was destroyed in fighting earlier this year.

“The Phnom Penh government claims that I speak groundlessly about the MOU,” he said. “Now Thailand isn’t allowing us to rebuild the market that they burned down. They have warned us against rebuilding it, citing contradiction to the MOU. The Cambodian government didn’t realize the MOU contradicted our interests. If Cambodia wishes to develop anything at Preah Vihear temple, [the Thais] warn us it is a white zone.”

However, Var Kimhong, chairman of Cambodia’s border committee, denied the 2000 agreement included areas of Preah Vihear temple as white zones. The agreement was over cooperation on border demarcation for 805 kilometers from the Dangrek mountains to the sea, he said, adding that Sean Pengse’s claims are contradictory to the facts.

“He shouldn’t make comments if he doesn’t know the truth,” Var Kimhong said.

Thailand “warned us against rebuilding the market, claiming we were violating Article 5 of the 2000 MOU,” he said. “We responded to Thailand, explaining that we are rebuilding the market on the orders of Prime Minister Hun Sen, in honor of Article 5 of the MOU to keep the status quo before the MOU. The MOU was signed June 14, 2000. The market had been there since 1998.”

Many Thais objected to Cambodia’s bid to enlist the temple as a Unesco World Heritage Site. When it was listed in July 2008, pro the current military standoff began.

Sean Pengse said that Thailand has in the past and is now currently using negotiation time for its own interests.

“Thailand doesn’t want us to file a complaint with the international court,” he said. “The 2000 MOU states that the border dispute should be discussed. This deprives us of our right to file a complaint.”

However, Var Kimhong said the agreement has not lost groud for Cambodia and honors the 1962 agreement.

“If you read the 2000 MOU, you would see that it refers to all previous treaties, conventions and maps since 1907,” he said.

The government was seeking joint cooperation on border demarcation as its primary choice, in the name of being a good neighbor, he said. It has not deprived itself the right to complain on border demarcation contrary to a map signed between the French and Thailand.

Sean Pengse worries that negotiations will drag on and more serious incidents will ensue.

After regaining independence from France in 1954, Cambodia reclaimed Preah Vihear from Thailand, after regaining several lost provinces, such as Battambang and Siem Reap. Disputes over the temple escalated, including a severing of diplomatic ties between the two in 1958. Cambodia lodged a complaint with the international court, which decided in 1962 Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia.