Thai premier warns against politicising Thai-Cambodian dispute

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BANGKOK, Jan 7 – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra today called on nationalist groups to refrain from politicising the Thai-Cambodian dispute on the Phra Viharn (Preah Vihear) temple, currently pending a ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

She stood firm that the government will defend Thailand’s sovereignty and said that her close relationship with Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen is less important than the national interest.

“Please demonstrate [against the Phra Viharn conflict] in a peaceful manner and don’t politicise it to put a pressure on the government,” she warned.

She said her friendship with the Cambodian leader is helpful in talks on certain international relationship issues but it is not more important than the national interest.

Deputy Prime Minister/Education Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana, a legal expert, has been assigned to handle the case with Surapong Tovichakchaikul, deputy premier and foreign minister, she said.

Though each country must protect its national interest, Thailand will try its best through diplomatic channels to seek a peaceful resolution to avoid tension along the Thai-Cambodian border, she added, side-stepping a reporter’s question on Mr Surapong’s recent statement that Ms Yingluck had brought up the issue during her talks with Premier Hun Sen who insisted on pursuing the case in the ICJ.

Ms Yingluck said the foreign ministry is obliged to set up a spokespersons’ team to specially address the case to the Thai public without having to seek cabinet approval.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha gave reassurances of Thai military readiness to protect Thai territory along the border, adding that he believed Cambodian reinforcements on the border were routine defence procedures, not a challenge to Thailand.

“Don’t relate the issue with politics. I won’t say which side has an advantage. The army is keeping a close watch on the border to prevent conflicts which can erupt anytime,” he said.

He was apparently referring to moves by several civic groups protesting the ICJ action on the dispute.

At least two major groups – the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the United Front of Thai Nationalists and Saviours of Thai Territory – have announced their movements and protests against the government on its handling of the controversy.

A hearing with Thailand and Cambodia on the Phra Viharn temple dispute is scheduled at the Court in April and the ruling will possibly be announced in October.