Phnom Penh: Cambodia will ask Thailand to sign a permanent ceasefire at a regional meeting next week following deadly clashes over a disputed stretch of border, and will request foreign monitors to make sure the truce holds.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Thursday Cambodia would ask for commanders from both armies to hold regular talks and for the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) to send observers or troops to guarantee the ceasefire.
“The situation now is that each side is accusing the other of shooting first, so don’t be afraid, we call for a third party for observation,” Hun Sen told a news conference, in a comment aimed at Thailand.
Hun Sen said he believed Thailand would not agree to any deployment of Asean observers in the border area but said Cambodia was willing to allow troops from any Asean countries to “police” his country’s army.
His comments follow Monday’s call for restraint by the United Nations Security Council to end the standoff, which has killed at least three Thais and eight Cambodians and wounded dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides.
The fighting took place near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple. Although an international court awarded the temple to Cambodia 49 years ago, both countries lay claim to a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) patch of land near it.
Hun Sen had initially asked the Security Council to deploy peacekeepers at the border, but it said the problem should be solved at bilateral and regional meetings. Thailand prefers a bilateral solution but welcomes Asean’s “support”.
Asean foreign ministers are due to meet in Jakarta on 22 February to try to defuse a crisis that analysts say presents a crucial test of the group’s unity and integrity as it prepares to become an EU-style community in 2015.
Asean ‘lacks muscle´
Hun Sen said Asean alone did not have the power to settle the dispute but appreciated its efforts.
“Even though Asean doesn’t have muscles, Asean has the willingness to have a ceasefire in order to end the dispute. This is Asean’s intention as Asean wants to be a community,” he said.
Hun Sen also gave his assurances that there would be no repeat of anti-Thai riots in 2003, when nationalist fervour led to the torching of the Thai embassy and ransacking of Thai businesses in Phnom Penh.
“There is no discrimination or incident like the one in 2003 so this same thing will not happen,” he said.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reiterated Thailand’s calls for a bilateral solution and said neither a ceasefire agreement nor Asean observers were necessary.
“That goes too far,” he told reporters in Bangkok.
“Right now there is no need to sign any agreement. Our principle remains the same: we did not shoot first. But like any other country, when invaded, we respond. No one can take away the right to protect our sovereignty.”
Both sides have maintained a heavy military presence on the border and tension remains high. Sporadic clashes have occurred several times since the fighting between the two sides from 4 - 7 February.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, the government’s security chief, said it was important for both sides to remain calm and it was “pointless” for Asean to send troops or observers to the border.
“If there is still strong emotion today, we could wait for things to cool off first before we talk,” he said following Hun Sen’s comments.