Friday, July 22, 2011

Indonesia and ASEAN’s peace-making role

PLE Priatna, Jakarta | Fri, 07/22/2011 8:00 AM   
Thailand and Cambodia must immediately withdraw their military personnel from the disputed-area of Preah Vihear Temple. Both countries should continue their cooperation within ASEAN and in particular, allow the observers appointed by ASEAN to have access to the provisional demilitarized zone.

Thailand and Cambodia also had to refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve. The answers from the UN’s highest court on the case of Cambodia’s request for clarification on Preah Vihear’s status to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was released last Monday (ICJ order No. 2011/22 dated 18 July 2011).

A new Thailand-Cambodia relationship has to begin. “It is encouraging to note that United Nations Security Council and now International Court of Justice have recognized ASEAN to play a role in facilitating a resolution. I heard from both sides that they remain committed to peace and following the process to implement it. Both sides also continue to welcome the appropriate engagement of ASEAN,” said Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia’s foreign minister, in his capacity as ASEAN chairman, to the media in Bali on Tuesday.

This ICJ’s fundamental clarification was coincidently being given to ASEAN as Indonesia is hosting the 44th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/ Post Ministerial Meeting (PMC)/ 18th ARF and East Asian Summit Ministerial Consultation in Bali, July 16-23, 2011.

Although there is no such ICJ delegation to the ASEAN meeting, the said ICJ announcement, once again, has explicitly mandated ASEAN and Indonesia to respond rapidly on the case.

This does not only provide momentum for ASEAN to contribute in the dispute settlement mechanism and conflict resolution, but also for institutionalizing ASEAN’s rapid
response, which is very relevant to the people and regional stability.

The new face of the Thai-Cambodia relationship, consequently, should be implemented first by a demilitarization process and then allowing the neutral observers to come in. The tripartite agreement of the Jakarta package solution on May 9, 2011, which was initiated by Marty, had actually put an Indonesia observer team as part of the new peace process.

At this moment, there is no reason at all for both sides to delay again and find “another political judgment”, just to disregard this ICJ’s decision. The current ICJ’s clarification had a binding effect and created international legal obligations for both sides as well.

Thailand and Cambodia respectively have the legal obligation to accept and “surrender part of their sovereignty” to respect with their new binding situation. While there is no longer a choice available for both sides to receive “non-military personnel” as agreed to step into the current peace process.

Let ASEAN restart the work without delay to build a real permanent ceasefire and peace-making process, and first-thing-firsts as a prerequisite to have Thai-Cambodia comply with the ICJ.

Without serious acts of compliance and military withdrawal from the conflict zone, there will only be new problems for Thailand and Cambodia. The act of defiance will not help both conflicting parties find another path to a new solution.

Creating disobedience to the ICJ, the non-compliance act, in turn, will only bring both sides to conflict, not only ASEAN and the UN, but also unnecessary regional instability. Non-compliance would lead to a deepening of the conflict and invite the UNSC and its peace-keeping operation, if necessary, to get involved.

Yingluck Shinawarta, as Thailand’s next leader who will hopefully be supported by PM Hun Sen, both sides had to prove their basic compliance with peace-making and opening restoration of Thai-Cambodia relations through new perspectives, compromise and compliance. Peace-making is much more difficult than waging war. Thai-Cambodia should be able to maintain peace at the border until the process of demilitarization is truly under way.

Thailand’s precedent to withdraw from the UNESCO-World Heritage Committee’s membership and walk out from the other front of Thai-Cambodia’s dispute at the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee last May, which were both strongly linked to the question of nationalism and sovereignty, should not be applied to the new ICJ clarification case.

Abhisit’s political pressure last February to push UNESCO to delist Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site has not successfully given “political compensation” for the loss of the ICJ’s case. Thailand has strongly protestes UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee by withdrawing its membership, which did not offer a shortcut to a solution.

In the name of protection of sovereignty and because of the disagreement over Preah Vihear’s management plan, Thailand rejected UNESCO experts sent to conduct reparations and restorations of the temple in a disputed-area.

That small example should not be treated as a model or inspiration to run from the spirit of compliance and negotiation.

The demilitarization process, in fact, will be difficult and time-consuming because there is still a residual indication element of non-compliance. Thai Minister of Defense Gen. Prawit said as quoted by Bangkok Post last May: “If the ICJ ordered us to withdraw, I still could not do so, because the area also belongs to Thailand.”

According to that statement, ASEAN, consequently will have another test to mediate post the ICJ’s decision. One of the biggest challenges for ASEAN’s peace-making role in this case is still non-compliance mixed with the possibility of a proxy military clash at the border.

The writer is a political scientist, alumnus of the University of Indonesia

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