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09BANGKOK1569 THAI-CAMBODIAN BORDER DISPUTE: TENSIONS INCREASE, DRIVEN BY NATIONAL POLITICS, BUT GOOD LOCAL COOPERATION

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“214738”,”7/1/2009 10:46″,”09BANGKOK1569″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”09BANGKOK1487″,

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SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 001569

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2019

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PBTS, TH, CB

SUBJECT: THAI-CAMBODIAN BORDER DISPUTE: TENSIONS INCREASE,

DRIVEN BY NATIONAL POLITICS, BUT GOOD LOCAL COOPERATION

 

REF: BANGKOK 1487

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

1. (C) Summary: Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia in

regard to their border dispute have increased recently after

the Thai Cabinet decided to renew its objection to the World

Heritage Committee\’s (WHC) listing of the Preah Vihear

temple, based on a unilateral Cambodian submission in 2008,

in the run-up to the latest WHC meeting in Seville.

Following the Cabinet\’s decision, Thai officials have noted

to us what they believe to be inflammatory comments by

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, and both sides had

reportedly reinforced troops in the vicinity of the temple

area and the 4.6 square km of disputed territory. Deputy

Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Defense Minister Prawit

Wongsuwan traveled to Phnom Penh June 27 to meet with

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to try to ease tensions, and

on July 1 the Thai Army confirmed to us that the number of

Thai troops in the disputed area would be reduced. The chief

Thai negotiator in the Joint Border Committee (JBC)

underscored Thai determination to press forward with

demarcation activities in less controversial border stretches

to build confidence and trust, while stressing that

demarcation would take a long time; local officials report

good on-the-ground cross-border cooperation with Cambodian

counterparts.

 

2. (C) Comment: DPM Suthep\’s hastily arranged visit with Hun

Sen appears to have calmed heightened tensions. The border

issue looks to remain a difficult issue for the Abhisit

coalition government, however. Critical comments last year

by then opposition Democrats and their supporters of the

signing of a joint communique in support of the World

Heritage Committee\’s listing of the Preah Vihear temple by

the pro-Thaksin party that was in power have backed the

Abhisit government into a corner on this issue.

 

3. (C) Comment, cont: With so much of the government\’s focus

on domestic Thai politics, and a full resolution of

Thai-Cambodia border disputes years off (given technical

challenges in demarcating the rugged terrain) and a lack of

political will in both capitals, we continue to believe that

the best course of action for the USG is to continue to urge

both sides to peacefully solve the border dispute through

bilateral talks. To appear to take sides in the matter, or

to be seen as pushing for progress faster than the two sides

are willing to achieve on their own, could be used for

advantage by one side or the other in the current dispute.

We will work with our Defense Attache Office on gathering

more information on the Thai military\’s actions in regard to

the border dispute. End Summary and Comment.

 

DPM SUTHEP\’S VISIT WITH HUN SEN EASES TENSIONS

——————————————— –

 

4. (C) Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Defense

Minister Prawit Wongsuwan June 27 met with Cambodian Prime

Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh to address tensions that have

intensified after the Thai Cabinet decided June 16 to renew

objections to the World Heritage Committee\’s (WHC) 2008

listing of the Preah Vihear Temple based on a Cambodian

petition. Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak, Director of the

Royal Thai Army\’s (RTA) Foreign Liaison Division, confirmed

for us July 1 that the RTA would reduce the number of Thai

troops in the 4.6 square kilometer disputed area as the

Bangkok Post had quoted Thai Army Commander General Anupong

Paojinda. Anupong said that Suthep, Prawit and Hun Sen had

agreed on a troop reduction that would bring the number of

troops down to the number in place before the reinforcements

had been called after tensions heightened in recent weeks.

Werachon pointed out that, while the situation had not

returned to normal, tensions were lower so the RTA had

decided to reduce the number of troops to signal good will.

Werachon had told us June 28 that the RTA had sent a

battalion of heavy artillery and a company of special warfare

troops to reinforce Thai positions near the temple. Those

deployments were in response to recent Cambodian troop

increases that included Special Forces soldiers, Werachon

said.

 

BANGKOK 00001569 002 OF 003

 

5. (SBU) Tensions between the two nations had increased after

the Thai Cabinet decided to renew its objection to the WHC\’s

inscription of the Preah Vihear temple at meetings the week

of June 22 in Seville, Spain. Prime Minister Abhisit

Vejjajiva publicly reiterated June 26 that Thailand\’s

objection to the Preah Vihear inscription only pertained to

the WHC and not Cambodia. Abhisit has said that the temple

should be jointly listed so as to promote peace and stimulate

economic development in the area. The RTG also claimed that

the WHC should re-examine the listing because the Cambodian

government had not yet fulfilled the conditions required by

the 2008 WHC decision. In particular, the Thai government

was concerned that Cambodia had not yet established and

convened an International Coordinating Committee (ICC) with

Thailand\’s participation, nor had Cambodia provided relevant

information and documents, including detailed maps and the

buffer zone of the inscribed property.

 

RTG CLAIMS CAMBODIAN TROOP BUILDUP

———————————-

 

6. (C) The Ambassador raised the ongoing border dispute

during a June 22 meeting with MFA Permanent Secretary

Virasakdi Futrakul and stressed USG hopes that the conflict

would be resolved peacefully and diplomatically. Virasakdi

explained that Thailand\’s contention was with the process by

which the WHC had listed the temple in 2008, and that the RTG

hoped that a more cooperative approach could be taken.

 

7. (C) Virasakdi told the Ambassador that the Cambodian

military had recently increased the number of troops in the

area of the temple. Three thousand Cambodian troops were

located within the temple grounds or in the area directly

around it, and another five thousand troops were in reserve

nearby, he alleged. The troop buildup was alarming to the

RTG because it appeared that Cambodian intentions were to

achieve a three-to-one advantage over the number of Thai

troops. Virasakdi said he had been told by the Thai military

that this ratio was necessary to conduct offensive operations

against troops that were in defensive positions. Thailand

understood that Cambodia had recently sent heavy weapons to

the area and the Thai government had heard that Cambodia had

recently asked China for MANPADS, Virasakdi said.

 

8. (C) Virasakdi told the Ambassador that Defense Minister

Prawit had recently discussed the situation with his

Cambodian counterpart and had reiterated that Thailand had no

intention of raising tensions or provoking further clashes.

However, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong\’s June 20

comments that his government welcomes engaging on the issue

militarily, diplomatically, and internationally or through

peaceful negotiations, but that Cambodia would also welcome

further border fighting if Thailand wanted to send troops to

Cambodia, were unnecessarily inflammatory, in Virasakdi\’s

view. Virasakdi told the Ambassador that it was possible

that Cambodia wished to orchestrate further clashes between

the two sides\’ militaries in hopes of bringing the issue to

the UNSC.

 

JOINT BORDER COMMISSION HOPES FOR EASING OF TENSIONS

——————————————— ——-

 

9. (C) During a June 26 meeting with Vasin Teeravechayan,

Thai Chair of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission

(JBC) and retired Ambassador to South Korea, we reiterated

USG hopes that the border dispute would be solved through

diplomatic means and asked Vasin how long he thought it would

take for the JBC to demarcate disputed border stretches.

Vasin told us that the basis of the current disagreement was

that the Cambodians continued to build residential,

commercial, and religious structures in the disputed area

around the Preah Vihear temple despite an agreement by the

two governments to avoid activities in the disputed 4.6

square kilometers until the border could be demarcated.

Cambodia had ignored repeated Thai protests regarding this

issue. Vasin said he hoped Suthep\’s visit with Hun Sen would

succeed in toning down inflammatory rhetoric that had

emanated from Phnom Penh.

 

BANGKOK 00001569 003 OF 003

 

10. (C) Vasin admitted that the border issue was very

sensitive, as the conflict had become subordinate to domestic

politics on both sides of the border. For example, in

recognition of the political sensitivity of Foreign Minister

Kasit Primoya\’s 2008 forceful comments against Hun Sen on the

issue, Vasin\’s official title had been changed from advisor

to the Foreign Minister to advisor to the Foreign Ministry.

Vasin stressed that working level relations among JBC members

and the military were good. For example, the local Thai and

Cambodian military commanders were long-time friends and

communicated often.

 

11. (C) Vasin acknowledged that the RTG and Cambodia

approached resolving the problem differently. Thailand hoped

to build mutual confidence by addressing demarcation issues

along other areas of the Thai-Cambodian border away from

Preah Vihear in hopes that success elsewhere along less

contentious areas would lead to a more cooperative approach

to the disputed area around the temple. In 2009, a joint

survey team was to work on the more than 100 kilometers in

Sector 5, spanning border pillars 1 to 23 west of Preah

Vihear, and possibly start work in Sector 6, covering border

pillar one eastward to Preah Vihear. The agreed plan of work

in Sector 5 is to find the existing pillars first, create

auto-photo maps, agree on a walking survey, and add new

border pillars. The process of fixing missing border markers

and demarcating the actual 798 kilometer border, based on

century old maps of a less-precise scale (1:200,000), 190

kilometers of no border pillars, and the rough terrain would

be a lengthy and laborious process, he stressed. Cambodia,

however, appeared to have made the border dispute in the area

of the temple a high priority in its foreign policy goals,

Vasin said.

 

GOOD RELATIONS AMONG LOCALS ALONG BORDER

—————————————-

 

12. (C) During a June 17-19 trip along the Thai-Cambodian

border well to the west and south of the disputed area, we

were repeatedly told by government officials, local people,

and police and military representatives that relations with

Cambodian counterparts were good. Thai Marine Commandant

Vice Admiral Suwit Thararoop, the lead for the Thai task

force responsible for border security in Chantaburi and Trat

provinces, told us that he had a very good relationship with

his Cambodian counterparts. For example, the local Cambodian

commander had closely coordinated with Suwit to maintain

peace and stability at border crossings when clashes broke

out last year at Preah Vihear. Furthermore, lower level

officials from both countries regularly conduct joint patrols

against illegal logging and smuggling, Suwit said. The heart

of matter, Suwit said, was politics in Bangkok and in Phnom

Penh.

 

13. (C) At Klongyai, on the Thai border with Cambodia\’s Koh

Kong province, the Thai Navy Captain in charge of the local

border coordination committee said that relations were good

and the two sides\’ border security officials cooperated

closely. In addition, the two sides\’ navies and fishing

industries did not have problems, despite large areas of

overlapping sea claims.

 

14. (SBU) In Buriram, a border province closer to Preah

Vihear temple, local academics and politicians told us that,

despite some nationalistic sentiments among older Thais in

the region, the temple issue was not important for local

people. The academics told us that people believed that the

temple belonged to Thailand because it had been agreed by the

French and Siam (Thailand) that the border would be

delineated based on the watershed (and locals believed the

steep drop-off defined the watershed\’s edge). Despite this

belief, most in Buriram were not interested in pushing the

claim, rather they wanted a peaceful resolution soon as this

would likely increase tourism in the area.

JOHN

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Written by thaicables

July 21, 2011 at 5:41 am

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