A Change of Guard

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Friday, 11 January 2013

News Analysis: Ruling Puea Thai party faces dilemma over Preah Vihear dispute

By Surasak Tumcharoen

BANGKOK, Jan. 7, 2013 (Xinhua) -- The unresolved territorial dispute with neighboring Cambodia, currently troubling the Puea Thai (For Thais)-led government, has picked up momentum in the Thai mainstream media after it found its way to the World Court where Cambodia has filed a petition seeking a final ruling on the contested territory.
The disputed area covers over 4.6 square kilometers surrounding the Preah Vihear Temple that straddles the shared border between Thailand and Cambodia.
In l962, the World Court ruled that the area belongs to Cambodia and in 2008, the UNESCO declared the temple as World Heritage site.
The World Court in The Hague is scheduled to hold hearings in April and would issue its final ruling in the latter part of this year.
Political analysts here said that regardless of the final ruling of the World Court, the issue could affect the stability of the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
But Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul has reassured the Thai public that the Yingluck government would remain intact despite the lawsuit at the World Court, adding that he is confident that both Thailand and Cambodia could "hammer out a fresh compromise" over the disputed territory.

Surapong said the World Court might be able to come up with a " neutral" ruling so that neither the Thais nor the Cambodians would come out as losers or winners.
Thai Defense Minister ACM Sukampol Suwannatat echoed the views of Surapong, saying that he is optimistic that the final ruling of the World Court, which is expected to be handed down six months time after the April's hearings, would be acceptable to all parties concerned, particularly the Thai public.
"Regardless of the World Court's ruling, the Thai government will see to it that the Thai people will understand accordingly and accept it," said Surapong, adding that the government will keep them well-informed and updated before and after the ruling is delivered in The Hague.
But one Puea Thai MP, who did not want to be quoted because he has no authority to speak for the party, said that any ruling adverse to Bangkok would fan anti-government protests from diehard nationalists or downright chauvinists.
"Such defeat in the World Court would be viewed as a big territorial loss for Thailand and could spur a major political crisis," the MP said.
Thai Ambassador to the Hague Veerachai Palasai, who has been temporarily summoned to Bangkok to help the government prepare a legal strategy to counter the Cambodian move, has cautioned that the Thai side should observe the outcome at the World Court as long as Thailand is part of the international community and member of the United Nations.
Palasai said that Thailand could face a UN-led international boycott if the country refuses to honor the World Court ruling.
Remarkably, the Thai-Cambodian dispute has been escalated not by the Cambodians, who invariably adhered to the French-made maps of the old days demarcating the common borderlines, but by a resurrected, anti-government movement led by the so-called People' s Alliance for Democracy, better known as the Yellow Shirts, who remained opposed to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of Yingluck.
Yellow Shirt leaders planned to formally call on Yingluck to ignore a ruling of the World Court if it is favorable to Cambodia and to order the Thai troops deployed in the disputed areas to repulse a Cambodian takeover of the disputed shrine.
The anti-Thaksin activists also planned to organize a massive protest against the Yingluck government if it fails to heed their demands.
Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva added confusion to the issue by alleging that the Puea Thai-led government had already reached a "hush-hush" agreement with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen about the whole Preah Vihear dispute, given the fact that Thaksin and the Cambodian leader were known as close friends.
"It remains to be seen whether or not the hidden agreement ( between the Thai and Cambodian governments) might bear fruit to the extent that any profitable concessions for undersea resources in the Cambodian waters (in the Gulf of Thailand) be given to the Thai government," said Abhisit, who insisted that his government should not be held responsible for the international dispute.
But Surapong argued that the Cambodians had filed the case to the World Court during the Abhisit's tenure, adding that such a case could not have been filed under a Puea Thai government.
Former Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, who currently serves as legal adviser to Thaksin, dismissed as groundless the accusations raised by the Democrat Party's leader that the Yingluck government had quietly offered to give away the disputed land to the Cambodians in exchange for the alleged concessions in Cambodia's marine resources.
"Nobody would be so evil to surrender a territorial integrity to any foreigner and not to fight for it," Pattama said.
Editor: Deng Shasha

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