PM holds video conference with concerned agencies on border clashes; Indonesian FM visits Thailand Monday

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BANGKOK, April 24 – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday held a video conference with concerned officials following the clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops.

Ranking officials who attended the conference included Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as well as governors of Surin and Buri Ram border provinces, Second Army Region commander Lt Gen Thawatchai Samutsakorn and Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office Ongart Klampaiboon, who is now inspecting the situation at the disputed border area.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit reported to the premier that Indonesian Foreign Minister Marthy Natalegawa will visit Thailand tomorrow and he will inform his Indonesian counterpart of the incident.

Mr Kasit said he spoke with Mr Natalegawa by phone this morning. The Indonesian minister has expressed worries over the fighting, and Mr Kasit reaffirmed to him that Thailand would try to prevent fighting from escalating and that they would also try to settle the border dispute amongst themselves.

Both Thailand and Cambodia are members of ASEAN.

Mr Kasit said he had also talked to his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong over the telephone on Saturday and both agreed to “meet in the next four to five days.”

The foreign minister added that the ministry has reported the renewed clashes to Paris, where the UNESCO and World Heritage Committee headquarters are located, as well as to the governments which are members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The ministry informed them that Thailand is ready to cooperate with the Cambodian government to enable Cambodian and Thai villagers living along the border to live peacefully,” Mr Kasit said, adding that Cambodian government leaders ought to come and sit at the negotiating table and find ways to end the border dispute.

Foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi later said in a news conference that the visit of Mr Natalegawa was initially planned for talks on sending Indonesian observers into the Thai-Cambodian borders, not on the latest skirmish.

Mr Thani stated the Indonesian minister will visit Phnom Penh earlier in the day before arriving to Bangkok in the evening.

Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been fighting at the disputed border area in the Thai northeastern province of Surin since Friday, forcing more than 30,000 Thai border villagers to temporarily evacuate to centres deeper inside Thailand.

Surin governor Serm Chainarong told Mr Abhisit during the video conference that his province needs urgent government assistance to construct more bunkers for villagers.

More than 140 bunkers are needed to be built in Surin and the request is expected to be considered by the finance ministry tomorrow, said Minister Ongart.

As clashes continued near Ta Kwai temple, Lt Gen Thawatchai reported to the prime minister that heavy movements of Cambodian troops were seen near the ancient Preah Vihear temple and they had prepared heavy artillery and large amount of ammunition, which implied that they were ready for an attack in this area.

“According to Cambodian local authorities, I have been informed that they have no authority to make the decision on the clash, but it depends on the Cambodian government,” said Gen Thawatchai.

The general added he believes decision-making depends only on the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who earlier expressed his desire to raise the border conflict at the tripartite level but Thailand stood firm for bilateral talks.

Clashes between the two countries along the border have occurred intermittently after UNESCO named Preah Vihear temple a World Heritage site on July 8, 2008 after Cambodia unilaterally applied for the status.

The country submitted a sole management plan for the temple last year to UNESCO’s World Heritage Commission, which deferred a decision until the middle of this year after opposition by Thailand.