Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has made her first official visit to Cambodia to mend ties after fatal border clashes between the two countries. This one-day trip also signals a fresh start in fractured Thai-Cambodian relations.
Yingluck and her Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen held official talks and agreed to "redeploy troops" away from the disputed area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple complex on their mutual borders, according to Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. The two leaders also agreed that troops along their disputed border should meet frequently to ease tensions. Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong added that relations were "normalizing".
The countries have engaged in armed clashes at the border, but tensions have been lowered since Yingluck’s successful July election. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Thailand and Cambodia in July to withdraw troops from the areas surrounding the temple, but neither side has done so. Nonetheless, the border has been calm. Hor Namhong remarked that the redeployment of troops would require observers from Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN.
Hun Sen said the "nightmare" of tensions with Thailand was over, and pledged to work with Thailand to resolve the border dispute. Under previous Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva the dispute escalated into heavy arms clashes twice, with Cambodia bringing the dispute to the ICJ. While Thailand does not disagree with Cambodia’s ownership of Preah Vihear, both sides claim a 4.6-square-kilometre area of nearby land. In February, fighting broke out at the temple site, leaving 10 people dead, and further clashes took place in April, leaving 18 dead. Each side has blamed the other for starting the clashes.
Report: Thai PM in first Cambodia visit to mend ties (AFP, 15 Sep 2011)
Report: Thailand, Cambodia agree on easing tensions, withdrawing from disputed border area near temple (Washington Post, 15 Sep 2011)
When Yingluck won the July elections, Cambodia was pleased as it no longer had to work with the Abhisit administration, which the Cambodian government found to be difficult to deal with. As a result of the clashes around the temple, Thai-Cambodian relations fell to their lowest point in years.
Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Yingluck and Hun Sen discussed the issue in Phnom Penh. Kanharith said, "First of all, when we talk about [the] border, prime minister [Hun Sen] says we have to follow the decision of the International Court, and also keep the role of the Indonesians. The Thai prime minister agreed."
Thailand also said it would send a delegation of businessmen to Cambodia later this year to promote trade and investment. Trade has been stagnant over the past two years, while Thai investment into Cambodia nosedived
Another contentious issue is the jailing of two Thai activists who allegedly entered Cambodia illegally. Phnom Penh has said numerous times since that they will not be released until serving at least two-thirds of their six and eight-year terms. But Kanharith said, "As a message to the mother of Veera and the sister of Ratree, that the government is seeking the way to have the release of the two convicts according to Cambodian legal procedure."
Report: Yingluck Visit Boosts Thai-Cambodia Relations (VOA, 15 Sep 2011)
There has been speculation that the two jailed Thais will be released when Ms Yingluck arrives in Cambodia. Yingluck said she planned to raise the matter in Cambodia. It is thought that Phnom Penh will release the two in a gesture of goodwill due to close relations between Hun Sen and Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Yingluck has emphasized that her visit to Cambodia is not related to her brother’s scheduled visit to Cambodia on Friday.
Report: Yingluck visit spurs hopes for activists (Bangkok Post, 15 Sep 2011)