Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart met on the sidelines of a UN-Asean summit in Hanoi on Thursday, the third meeting in just over a month, in an effort to reconcile an ongoing border dispute.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in September he had high hopes for the meetings, following the resignation of Thai fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the restoration of diplomatic ties.
That resignation has paved the way for talk of cooperation on both sides.
“The meeting was to affirm confidence and cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia, because we have to make the relationship on several issues, especially the borders,” Abhisit told VOA's Thai service. “From this talk, we confirmed cooperation and want to jointly find solutions to these problems without resorting to violence. We did not talk in detail, but we see a need to cooperate and to solve the problems.”
Hun Sen shared similar sentiments in a public speech, saying the meeting was “an essential one that creates confidence and cooperation.”
Relations between the two neighbors have soured since July 2008, when Preah Vihear temple, which sits next to a disputed strip of land on the border, was added to a World Heritage list under Cambodian management. Relations worsened when Thaksin, who faces a criminal sentence at home, was appointed an economic adviser to the government.
“I've told Abhisit that no matter how we are at odds with each other, and for whatever matter, we cannot move away from one another,” Hun Sen said after their first meeting.
But Cambodia has insisted that Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006, is a secondary factor in the relationship.
“Whether Thaksin is working as an adviser is not a key problem between Cambodia and Thailand,” Ouch Borith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told VOA Khmer. “For Cambodia, we don't see Thaksin as a problem, because he wasn't working solely as a Cambodian adviser. He also works and has business in Africa.”
Ouch Borith said problems over the border in 2008 had occurred prior to Thaksin's appointment, which Thailand used as a “pretext to cause problems with Cambodia.”
Thaksin's importance in the ongoing dispute remains in question, but Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who is from Thailand, said he was no longer relevant.
Ongoing talks between Hun Sen and Abhisit “is certainly a good sign,” he said. “And I think both sides are very much committed to an improved relationship.”
The two leaders met first in New York and then again in Brussels, and participants of those meetings said both the border and economic cooperation were discussed.
With Thaksin slowly moving away, relations have improved, but political observers have said that whether Hun Sen is shaking hands with Thaksin or Abhisit, he has nothing to lose.