Mar 3, 2008
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters at a press conference that Samak’s two-day visit at Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s invitation had been cordial – but issues of disputed sea borders and border killings of itinerant Cambodians had come up.
So too had the Preah Vihear temple problem, he said, but Thailand and Cambodia had spoken reasonably on the controversial move to make the temple perched on the two nations’ border a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia – a proposal Thailand has objected to.
As a newly-elected leader, Samak’s visit to neighbouring nations has become a tradition for new leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, of which both countries are members.
Kanharith said talks focused on the disputed sea borders between both nations instead, with Cambodia looking to make its claims to territory legal before expected rich offshore oil reserves are tapped within two years.
Also on the table were Cambodian allegations that Thailand uses undue force in controlling Cambodian immigrant workers to Thailand, which results in at least a dozen shooting deaths at the hands of Thai border patrols per year, according to border police.
‘Please, do not use unnecessary violence (on the borders) because it could disturb the Cambodian people,’ Kanharith warned. ‘Thailand has full rights to control illegal immigrants, but Thailand should also respect human rights.’
He said although the Preah Vihear temple had been discussed, Cambodia stood firm that the northern border temple belonged to it and it was Cambodia’s right to ask for World Heritage rights.
The issue is a controversial one in both nations. On Monday, the nationalistic Student Movement for Democracy issued a statement demanding Hun Sen refuse to speak with Samak regarding Preah Vihear, citing the 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia.
That movement’s leader, Kein Sara, was briefly imprisoned in 2003 for his alleged role in the anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh. Angry mobs had burned the Thai embassy and Thai businesses after a Thai actress was said to have claimed another cultural icon, the Angkor Wat temple complex, was Thai. Sara was quickly released.
Although allies, tensions between the neighbouring nations go back centuries. However issues including cultural ownership, Cambodia’s possible impending new oil wealth and other border issues have strained relations.
On Monday Kanharith said the oil field border dispute had been discussed extensively by Hun Sen and Samat, and Thailand had been urged to be less inflexible, allowing a ‘win-win situation between our two nations’.