August 4, 2008

Thai Government Urged to Build Up Allies Over Sea Border Conflict With Cambodia

Text of report in English by Thai newspaper Bangkok Post website on 3 August

[Report by Anucha Charoenpo: "Government faces tough task over sea border - Seminar told of Cambodian deals"]

The government should be prepared to deal with some powerful countries over the long-standing border conflicts with Cambodia, a seminar was told yesterday.

Pratheep Chuen-arom, former chief of staff at Sattahip Naval Base who has monitored disputed sea boundaries between the two nations, said the Cambodian government had granted permission to some big companies from France, the United States, China and England to explore for gas and petroleum in the disputed waters covering about 26,000 square kilometres.

The disputed waters are near Thailand's Koh Kud off Trat province and Koh Kong province of Cambodia.

Vice-Admiral Pratheep said this means Thailand will have to deal with these countries when negotiating the overlapping sea territory.

These countries, he added, were ready to extend their support to Cambodia if border conflicts between Phnom Penh and Bangkok rage on or escalate into a crisis.

Speaking at the seminar on the conflict of overlapping zones between Thailand and neighbouring countries organized by Rangsit University, the retired naval officer said the US had already flexed its military muscle and shown support for Cambodia by mooring a guided-missile destroyer at a pier in Kampong Som province.

He urged the government to come up with strategies to foster ties with these powerful countries under the framework of sovereignty and economic development.

"If Thailand carelessly handles the issue of the Preah Vihear temple, the country might lose other parts of its territory, including disputed waters in the Gulf of Thailand," he said.

Thanom Charoenlaph, a former director-general of the Hydrographic Department and a senior adviser to the Thailand Institute of Marine Affairs Development, proposed the two countries hold further talks to discuss the overlapping sea territory.

Admiral Thanom wants to set up a joint development area committee to solve the problem. The committee should be similar to the Malaysian-Thai joint development area, which has been active in gas exploration and development.

The retired officer said the two countries once held talks in 2001 when Surin Pitsuwan was foreign minister to work on the matter, but not much progress had been made.

Ex-ambassador Sompong Sucharitkul, who now acts as dean of Rangsit University's faculty of law, said he wanted the two countries to look at law issues carefully to deal with the disputed territorial waters.

Mr Sompong said a joint organization should be established to oversee the matter and there should be a law to deal with the issue as well.

Originally published by Bangkok Post website, Bangkok, in English 3 Aug 08.

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