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THAILAND, CAMBODIA ACCEPT OBSERVERS ON DISPUTED BORDER

By NBF News
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BANGKOK and Phnom Penh have agreed to accept Indonesian observers and avoid further clashes over a border dispute that has claimed about 10 lives and displaced thousands.

The agreement, according to Agence France Presse (AFP), came during a meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Indonesia, which holds the current chair of the 10-member block.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, said it was a 'unique arrangement' for a grouping that devotes most of its time to trade and avoids conflict resolution.

'Indonesia will observe on both sides of the border… This is an observer team, not a peacekeeping or peace enforcement team. The observer team will be unarmed,' he told reporters after the talks.

He said Cambodia and Thailand had also requested Indonesia's 'engagement' in subsequent bilateral negotiations, the first of which would be convened in Indonesia at a date to be specified.

'With hard work we can make things happen,' the minister added, referring to weeks of behind-the-scenes activity by his office and the Jakarta-based ASEAN secretariat, headed by former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan.

Thailand and Cambodia have each accused the other of starting the clashes, which erupted around the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear earlier this month.

The temple belongs to Cambodia but the surrounding area is claimed by both sides.

Despite a UN appeal for restraint, there has been a series of skirmishes reported by both sides since a February 5 ceasefire agreement.

Thailand has resisted Cambodian calls for third-party mediation but now appears ready to allow Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN, to play a formal role as observer of the ceasefire and future bilateral talks.

Speaking earlier in Phnom Penh, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said a third party was essential as Thailand 'signs documents with hands, but cancels them by feet.'

'Cambodia welcomes the Thai side's willingness to request Indonesia to send its observers to embed with their troops,' he said.

'It is true that the final decision must be made between Cambodia and Thailand, but we need a third party to know.'

In comments posted on Twitter, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin called the agreement a 'historic day' and said both sides had pledged to 'avoid further armed clashes.'

ASEAN has a strict policy of non-interference in member states' internal affairs and has been criticised for doing too little to resolve conflicts and buttress regional security.

Natalegawa said the decision to send observers to a conflict zone was an important step for the grouping.

'This outcome is very important, not just on conflict resolution between Thailand and Cambodia but in capacity building by ASEAN,' he said.

'This is the first time ASEAN has directly involved itself in the conflicts of member countries and come up with a solution.'

No time frame has been set for the arrival of the observers, who will include soldiers and civilians, he said.

They would embed with both armies on either side of the disputed border and report to the respective governments in Bangkok and Phnom Penh on any violations of the terms of the ceasefire.

Ties between Cambodia and Thailand have been strained since Preah Vihear was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.