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Thai, Cambodian leaders to meet after new battles

Written By vibykhmer on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | 8:24 PM

April 8, 2009
ABC Radio Australia

Cambodian and Thai negotiators have wrapped up two days of talks aimed at resolving a border dispute which last week flared into deadly gunbattles. They say they have made progress but there appears to be little substantive agreement between the two sides.

Three Thai troops were killed following clashes on Friday over disputed land around the ancient Preah Vihear temple - the deadliest fighting for six months. The World Court gave ownership of the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but tensions flared last July when it was awarded UN World Heritage status.

The latest skirmish comes just days before the countries' leaders meet face to face at the ASEAN summit in Thailand.

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Professor David Chandler, research fellow in Cambodian history, Monash Asia Institute

McCARTHY: Professor Chandler, is it any surprise to you that this dispute has flared into violence once again?

CHANDLER: Oh not really, because there are a lot of trigger happy soldiers on both sides who feel that they are protecting their national heritage. The Thais feel this temple really belongs to them and the Cambodians think the temple belongs to them and they are not being restrained by their governments to any great extent, I don't think. And also as Ms Percy was saying earlier, that Thailand is a period of considerable instability at the moment. That means that probably people are not paying as much attention to this as they should at the central level.

McCARTHY: Well, these latest talks of course are part of the process that was started after last October's clashes, to try and demarcate the border once and for all, but is there the political will on both sides to resolve this issue?

CHANDLER: It doesn't seem like it, I mean it seems to me if you have political will on both sides, you could resolve it quite quickly. It's not that crucial an issue. But of course matters of national pride are very hard to pin, to keep under control, and this is a matter of national pride on both sides.

McCARTHY: There are key issues that remain unresolved here. Even the official spelling of the temple's name is in dispute. In your view, what are the major obstacles to an agreement?

CHANDLER: Well, I think the major obstacles are the fact that the Thais really don't accept the 1962 ruling that put the temple in Cambodian hands and if the temple is in Cambodian hands, then this World Heritage site thing is another sort of slap in the face for the Thais, who feel that this temple and this whole area belongs to them and would be a prosperous tourist site. I have visited the temple myself, it is very beautiful and there is a tension there between the two countries. I don't see that this is really very soluble, frankly.

McCARTHY: Well, this latest skirmish comes just days before the countries' two leaders are due to meet face-to-face at the ASEAN summit in Thailand. In the longer term, what's it going to mean for the relationship between the two countries?

CHANDLER: I have a feeling the two leaders might be able to iron something out, because they don't want to have this thing go on forever, either of them. Both of them are quite sensible in many ways on issues like this. So it is not in their interest for this thing to drag on, but again I am not sure whose going to have to blink first, if you like. I don't think they are going to go to the meeting blaming each other, but let's just see what happens.


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