Cambodia and Thailand have been urged by South-East Asian nations to exercise “utmost restraint” over a simmering border dispute, after bilateral talks failed to resolve the standoff.
Amid tension escalating over disputed land near the World Heritage 11th Century Preah Vihear temple, along the Thai-Cambodia border, came the call by the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) (photo).
The two sides, who have deployed troops to the area, have been urged by Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian foreign minister, to observe a “cooling off” period.
“What we need is for Cambodia and Thailand to really exercise their utmost restraint … to prevent any outbreak of open conflict”, he said ahead of a key security meeting of the regional grouping.
And as Thailand is due to take over the rotating chairmanship of 10-nation Asean grouping next week, the dispute comes at an awkward time.
Meeting in Bangkok on Monday, Thailand and Cambodia failed to resolve mutual claims over land near the temple. Though both sides said that troops would remain in the area, they decided not to increase troops on the border, and that negotiations would continue at an unspecified time.
More than 500 troops have been deployed in the area by Thailand, against 1 000 from Cambodia.
On Tuesday, in order to resolve the border issue, Cambodia’s foreign ministry said it had asked for assistance from the UN Security Council and Singapore, which hosts the Asean security meeting.
Asean “could not stand idly by without damaging its credibility”, said Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, in response to Cambodia’s request.
“The situation has escalated dangerously”, he added.
A special lunch meeting has been held later on Tuesday between foreign ministers from the 10 Asean member states, on the sidelines of their annual gathering in Singapore.
“This is unscheduled. That illustrates to us how important it is”, Rais Yatim, the Malaysian foreign minister, said.
“It could be a test for Asean for the first time [since] two of Asean members are facing a border predicament.”
Usually, the 10-member Asean avoids interfering in each other’s domestic affairs, even though, in a bid to give the group greater relevance, it appears to be changing, .