Thai-Cambodia deal on troop withdrawal from border; Thai PM Yingluck meets Myanmar's Suu Kyi

Updated On: Dec 22, 2011

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to withdraw their troops from a disputed border area near the ancient temple of Preah Vihear. Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has met Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the first time Ms. Suu Kyi has held talks with the leader of a foreign country.

Withdrawal of Troops from Thai-Cambodia Border

The deal between Thailand and Cambodia was reached after Thai Defence Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha met his Cambodian counterpart, General Tea Banh, in Phnom Penh.

Speaking at a joint press conference, General Tea Banh said a joint working group will be established to discuss regulations for the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) ordered by the International Court of Justice in July. Troop withdrawals from the DMZ will be carried out as soon as possible in a transparent manner.

The troop withdrawal will be supervised by joint observers from Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, with Indonesia acting in its capacity as ASEAN chair.

Both sides have also agreed to cooperate on clearing landmines in the DMZ, which covers some 17 square kilometres near Preah Vihear.

Disputed Territory

The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia centres around the historic Preah Vihear temple. The site is a Hindu temple built during the reign of the Khmer Empire, and gives its name to the Cambodian province.

Thailand does not dispute Cambodia's ownership of the temple, but both sides claim some of the surrounding area. Tensions have increased since UNESCO awarded the temple World Heritage status in 2008.

In April 2009, soldiers exchanged fire across the disputed border.

More serious trouble flared in February 2011, when at least eight people were killed in several days of fighting. The violence moved westwards to another set of temples in April, before shifting back to Preah Vihear. Fighting left 18 people dead in April, with tens of thousands forced to flee their homes.

ICJ Order

In July 2011, the International Court of Justice ordered both Thailand and Cambodia to withdraw their troops from a newly defined demilitarised zone around their disputed borders. The ICJ also urged both countries to work with ASEAN and accept ASEAN observers in the area.

Both countries are now implementing the ICJ's order.

But the court's injunction is pending an interpretation of the ICJ's 1962 ruling, requested by Cambodia to clarify whether the land in the vicinity of the temple comes under Cambodian sovereignty. In 1962, the court ruled that the temple itself is situated in Cambodia, but Thailand argued that it still owns the area adjacent to the temple.

Report: Thailand, Cambodia agree to implement World Court border order [Thai News Agency MCOT, 21 Dec 2011]

Report: Thailand, Cambodia agree to withdraw troops [The Nation, 22 Dec 2011]

Report: Thailand and Cambodia reach deal on temple border [BBC, 21 Dec 2011]

Thai PM meets Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has offered pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi her support in Myanmar's coming by-election.

The two women talked for half an hour at the Thai embassy in Yangon, during Ms. Yingluck's visit to Myanmar. This is the first time Ms. Suu Kyi has met with another country's current leader.

"Aung San Suu Kyi told Prime Minister Yingluck that she hopes to win in the by-election and Ms Yingluck offered her support and her hope that Aung San Suu Kyi will win," said Thai government spokeswoman Thitima Chaisang.

Ms Yingluck expressed support for her neighbour's "path of national reconciliation", adding that its progress was good for ASEAN.

Speaking to reporters later in Bangkok, Ms. Yingluck added: "We have seen the good intentions of Burma's government to open up and to embark on democratic development."

She noted that future developments should be monitored.

But Ms. Yingluck rejected reports that her elder brother, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, helped pave way for the meeting between her and Ms Suu Kyi.

Mr. Thaksin had earlier told the Bangkok Post that he travelled to Myanmar last Thursday and met Burmese President Thein Sein and former president Than Shwe to smooth the way for his sister's visit this week.

Thai-Myanmar Relations

Ms. Yingluck was in Myanmar for two days, attending a meeting of regional leaders. She also held talks with Myanmar's President Thein Sein, where she expressed support for Myanmar's efforts to reconcile with the country’s ethnic communities. She also called for an expansion of business ties between the two countries.

Back in Thailand, the cabinet is expected to endorse economic cooperation with Myanmar through the creation of the Dawei special economic zone and an energy deal.

Ms. Yingluck's government views Myanmar as an important country for Thailand in terms of trade, investment and labour. Thailand is also dependent on natural gas imports from Myanmar. Currently some 20 percent of natural gas used in Thailand comes from Myanmar, and imports are expected to increase in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the Dawei project is a special economic zone planned to include a deep sea port and an industrial estate. The proposed special economic zone would become the "western gate" of Thailand to the Indian Ocean, while also serving as Myanmar's link to the Pacific.

However a critical article published by The Nation, a Thai newspaper, has accused Ms. Yingluck of sidelining democratisation and instead placing economic interests at the core of bilateral relations between Thailand and Burma.

The Nation cites Yangon-based analysts who claim Ms. Yingluck's meeting with Ms. Suu Kyi did not yield any significant outcome for political reform in Myanmar. Promoting political reform and democratisation in Myanmar is not high on the Thai government's agenda. The Nation argues what Ms. Yingluck really pushed in her visit to the country was Thailand's economic interests.

The meeting Ms. Yingluck attended at the start of her trip to Myanmar was the 4th summit of Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries on economic cooperation, involving Thailand, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Report: PM throws support behind Suu Kyi [Bangkok Post, 21 Dec 2011]

Analysis: Yingluck focuses on economic benefits [The Nation, 22 Dec 2011]

Report: Thai Prime Minister Meets Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma [Voice of America, 21 Dec 2011]

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