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Asean Border Monitors a First Step: Analysts

Southeast Asian foreign ministers and senior officials confer during Informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 to discuss a deadly border dispute that broke out between Cambodia and Thailand near an 11th centur

With Thailand and Cambodia now agreeing to Asean monitoring an informal ceasefire on the border, Cambodian analysts say more steps need to be taken to fully resolve the dispute.

Asean ministers met in Jakarta on Tuesday, reaching an agreement for both countries to accept an Indonesian monitoring mission to the border, where fierce clashes took place earlier this month near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

“Such a victory is just a step,” said Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “There are more steps that need to be taken continuously over a long period.”

Cambodia and Thailand must now start working on border demarcation, following an agreement made in 2000, that should settle disputes over territory, he said.

Troops from both countries remain entrenched along the border, and military commanders have reported sporadic shootings after four days of deadly clashes that began Feb. 4.

The underpinning issue of those clashes—a disputed stretch of land near Preah Vihear temple—remains unresolved. This has some observers looking to the International Court of Justice to clarify a decision it made handing the temple to Cambodia in 1962.

The international court can clarify the dispute, but the ceasefire must hold, said Chheang Vannarith, director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

“We need observers to maintain peace along the border, because we cannot allow the court to solve this problem when we are fighting each other,” he said.

An international court official told VOA Khmer this week that the court has already made its ruling and can only reexamine the case with a request from both sides.

Meanwhile, a schedule for Indonesia observes has yet to be laid out. Under Tuesday’s plan 40 observers would monitor the area, half on each side of the border.

Lao Monghay, a researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission, said the presence of monitors in no way guarantees a resolution to the dispute. Territory disputes can take years to resolve, he said, pointing to ongoing tensions in the Middle East and the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir as examples.

“Some countries have UN peacekeeping forces, but [problems] linger for many decades,” he said. “I’m concerned about that.”

Unarmed observers along the Thai-Cambodian border may find they have little access to areas of conflict, he added. And he questioned how effective an Asean representative as a third party at further discussions would be.

“Peace and stability are possible,” he said, “but for a complete solution, I’m very much skeptical.”

Nevertheless, Cambodia officials say they are pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s Jakarta meeting.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in public remarks Tuesday a full resolution will be difficult, especially with each side using a different map to delineate the border. He too said the international court would have to resolve the dispute if no map is agreed on.