Friday, July 22, 2011

Thai-Cambodian troops yet to pullback from border

Source: Radio Australia
Updated July 21, 2011 21:30:35

The International Court of Justice in the Hague on Monday ordered troops from both Thailand and Cambodia to immediately withdraw from disputed areas around the World Heritage-listed Preah Vihear temple.

But so far no one has moved.

Thailand's outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says the decision on whether and when to comply with the ruling will rest with the next government.

But he has ordered foreign affairs and defence officials to set a direction for negotiations to take place.

Presenter: Bill Bainbridge
Speaker: Helen Jarvis, a member of the delegation to World Heritage Committee, and adviser to the Cambodian Government
BAINBRIDGE: Helen Jarvis on Monday, Cambodia's Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Nam Hong said that the ruling would lead to a permanent ceasefire and said it was tantamount to a cessation of aggression of Thailand against Cambodia, yet troops on both sides are yet to move. When we can expect to see this decision implemented?

JARVIS: Yes, good morning Bill. I think from the Cambodian side it's documented that the decision will begin to be implemented immediately, as you said. But Hor Nam Hong himself has written already to the Indonesian observers which were agreed in February this year, and asking them to be assigned speedily, and as soon as they're in place the Cambodians are ready to start withdrawing.

BAINBRIDGE: But are the Cambodians prepared to move before the Thai troops move?

JARVIS: I don't think that's a realistic expectation. I think the area was declared to be a demilitarised zone, with both sides leaving, and I would imagine that it would be an agreed drawback on both sides.

BAINBRIDGE: But it would seem from what the outgoing Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva has said that he's expecting a period of negotiation and he's expecting a decision to be made by the next Thai government, which may not be formed, sworn in for a couple of weeks. So we could still be looking at several weeks of stalemate - is that your understanding of it?

JARVIS: I'd try to put (several words indistinct) the new government would have to make some decisions in Thailand. But from the Cambodian side, there's no need for more negotiations, the decision was clear, the demilitarised zone is very clearly marked on the map and as soon as the Indonesian observers arrive, there's no reason why the withdrawal can't immediately take place.

BAINBRIDGE: And have we had an indication from Indonesia when observers may arrive? Are discussions on having observers sent over are they underway?

JARVIS: I understand so, and certainly they've been ready to come or they've been in the process for some months as you would know because of the agreement on the 22nd February. There's been a number of drafts, terms of reference in fact, seven drafts as the Thais were changing what they wanted. But in any event with the new government one is expected that that would move forward fairly quickly.

BAINBRIDGE: But I'm wondering whether the Indonesian observers will be prepared to go in there before both sides had withdrawn. I mean it seems that that's not enough for the Thai side to withdraw. Do you think that they'll go there unless there's a complete withdrawal of both sets of troops?

JARVIS: Oh, I would think so. Remember it's a small group of I think something like around 30 people was originally envisaged I not sure what the final decision would be - But it's not like moving in battalions, so it can be done fairly quickly, and the expectation is the order has been given. Clearly, there's no military action to take place in that zone as ordered by the court, so there shouldn't be any need for the actual withdrawal before the Indonesian observers come in. There should be no military action.

BAINBRIDGE: I mean the court has said there shouldn't be any military action, but we've seen before with troops there and with the tension of the situation stray shots can be fired and this could spark conflict. Have there been any moves made on the Cambodian side at least to ensure that a situation like that can't arise which would set back the process of negotiation considerably?

JARVIS: For some time now, the Cambodian government and particularly the Prime Minister has been ordering the troops to (words indistinct) to be very careful not to allow any flare up or unforseen developments, and I think there's a great opportunity at the moment following Monday's ruling. So I think the situation is much less tense than it was before. Of course along with Monday's ruling we also have the very clear result from the Thai election, which I think has made everybody feel more optimistic.

BAINBRIDGE: And going back to the ruling, is the Cambodian side happy with the ruling? I mean this is really only an interim measure while it contemplates Cambodia's main request for an interpretation of the 1962 order. Is the Cambodian side content with where things sit at the moment?

JARVIS: Oh yes absolutely, because we know that the ICJ (International Court of Justice) moves slowly and it would have been some time before they could reach a ruling on the request for an interpretation, which is why Cambodia asked for the protective measures and they've come in pretty quickly. And they are pretty clear. I mean Thailand tried to request the court to dismiss the application, that was unanimously rejected by the court, and they went on to move provisional measures mostly as requested by Cambodia. So yes we are optimistic now that the temple can be safeguarded because the Thai military will be out of the immediate zone, the ASEAN observers will be in, and there's a clear order against any military action nearby. So this is terribly important from Cambodia's point of view. And in addition free access to the temple was specifically ordered by the court, which means restoration work, management of the temple can go ahead, because this was one thing that of course has been inhibited over the recent months.

BAINBRIDGE: And Thailand withdrew from negotiations last month over a Cambodian proposal to manage the temple area. Can you tell us, are you expecting to return to those negotiations after this decision?

JARVIS: The decisions in the World Heritage Committee have been made. The temple was listed in 2008 as world heritage, and that's a final and definitive decision. The documents concerning the management plan have been filed according to the regulations of the World Heritage Committee, and what we expect to move forward to is despatch of experts to look at the long term needs of restoration of the temple, and of course the specific immediate measures that will be required urgently as a result of some of the damage from the fighting. But those experts can come as soon as these measures are in place, and as I mentioned free access is provided in the order. As to the Thais, there's no need for any further negotiation on this, this is actually in reality in the World Heritage Committee now.

BAINBRIDGE: And just finally, Helen Jarvis, a lot of Cambodian civilians who are living near the border have been displaced by the conflict there. Are you able to update us on the situation of those people? When will they be able to return to their homes and their villages, or are they already back there?

JARVIS: Most of the displacement was around the other temples, Ta Moan and Ta Krabei, which is 150 kilometres further west. But there were some 13-thousand displaced around the temple, in the area near the temple. Those people have come back, but the problem is that huge areas have been contaminated with unexploded ordinance and in particular cluster bombs. And this is very damaging of course to people's livelihood, and it's a great pity because efforts were made over six years to de-mine this whole area, to open up the temple for tourism and also for people to live in areas away from the temple itself. And now, this all has to be done all over again, which is very, very demanding.

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