Preah Vihear Controversy
'No disadvantage' in talks with Tea Banh : Sukampol
Defence Minister ACM Sukampol Suwannathat yesterday met with his Cambodian counterpart at the Preah Vihear Temple amid concerns that the talks would put Thailand at a disadvantage in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dispute over land adjacent to the temple.The luncheon meeting between Sukampol and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tea Banh was held inside the compound of the ancient Hindu temple at noon.
Speaking to reporters after the one-hour meeting, Sukampol said the talks were meant to demonstrate to the ICJ that the two countries are able to handle the dispute peacefully and work together to solve problems for residents along both sides of the border.
Tea Banh supported Sukampol's statement, saying that if the situation along the border improved, the two countries would have a chance to jointly develop the local economies.
"We are neighbours and living together, any problem should be solved by talk," Tea Banh said.
The two ministers did not discuss the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre area adjacent to Preah Vihear, which is under deliberation by the ICJ.
The ICJ ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear is situated in Cambodian territory but Thailand argued that the surrounding area is Thai soil. Phnom Penh asked the court to clarify the scope and meaning of the 1962 judgement. The court opens for the final round of oral testimony in April and is expected to deliver judgement late this year.
Sukampol said the talks should not cause Thailand to be at a disadvantage in the case.
"If we fear being at a disadvantage, we won't be able to do anything. If we will be at a disadvantage, why should I go?" Sukampol said before leaving Bangkok for Si Sa Ket.
Sukampol said he wanted to hold the talks at the Surin Majestic Hotel but the meeting was prepared on short notice so the venue could not be changed.
Sukampol's entourage included General Thanongsak Apirakyothin, permanent secretary for defence, General Nipat Thonglek, deputy permanent secretary for defence, General Worapong Sanganet, deputy supreme commander, General Udomdet Sitabut, Army chief-of-staff, Lt-General Worawit Darunchu, commander of the Border Affairs Department, and representatives of other concerned agencies.
The defense minister took a walking tour of the temple complex before having lunch with Tea Banh, with roasted chicken and somtam on the menu.
Sukampol said he told his Cambodian counterpart to ensure that Cambodians would not cross the border to illegally harvest rosewood.
Sukampol said he warned Tea Banh that Thai authorities would take severe action against illegal Cambodian loggers.
Meanwhile in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian government called for Thai authorities to use "courts, not guns" against its citizens caught illegally harvesting rosewood. Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said that 45 Cambodian loggers were shot and killed inside Thailand last year.
Before crossing the border to meet Tea Banh, Sukampol and his entourage stopped at the Mo I-Daeng cliff tourist office in Khao Phra Wihan National Park for a briefing of the border situation by troops stationed there.