Tuesday, February 22, 2011
By Niniek Karmini (AP)
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Foreign ministers from Southeast Asia held emergency talks Tuesday on how to end a deadly standoff between Cambodia and Thailand near a disputed 11th century temple.
Each country has accused the other of starting the conflict — which has left at least eight people dead and displaced thousands — and disagree on how it should be settled.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier demanded a cease-fire — an idea Thailand flatly rejected — but appeared to back off Tuesday saying he'd settle for the deployment of military observers to the remote, mountainous area.
While heading into talks with the two countries and the eight other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the only thing off the table was more fighting.
"We are meant to resolve our problems through negotiations," he told reporters. "We are waging peace. That's what we are doing, not waging war .... so that no more guns and artilleries make a sound in our region."
The conflict that erupted earlier this month — resulting in exchanges of small arms, mortars and artillery fire — is rooted in a decades-old border dispute near the Preah Vihear temple that has fueled nationalist passions on both sides.
The monument, which was built between the 9th and 11th centuries and sits atop a 1,722-foot (525-meter) cliff, was awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, but sovereignty over adjacent areas has never been clearly resolved.
Skirmishes have erupted several times since 2008, when Preah Vihear was awarded U.N. World Heritage status, but soldiers and locals say none has been as violent as the latest clash.
The U.N. Security Council expressed "grave concern" Monday and gave strong backing to the efforts of ASEAN — which usually refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of member states — to help end the dispute.
Natalegawa indicated the regional grouping was ready to step in and stand firm.
"I would like to make it absolutely clear that ... the option of conflict, the option of use of force, is not meant to be on the table," he said.
In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, Hun Sen told university graduates he was ready to back off calls for a cease-fire, which would require a perhaps lengthy approval by the Thai parliament, if Bangkok agreed to the deployment of military observers.
"Signing a cease-fire is not necessary, but the arrival of observers ... is what's most important," he said, adding monitors would be welcome to all areas inside the Cambodian border, from the front lines to military camps and ammunition warehouses.
"They can inspect wherever and whenever they want."
While Hun Sen's has sought to shift the debate to an international stage, his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has pressed hard for a bilateral solution so it was not immediately clear what sway the Southeast Asian ministers might have.
Associated Press reporter Sopheng Cheang contributed to this report from Phnom Penh.