News / Asia

ASEAN Mediates in Cambodia, Thailand Conflict

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (C), accompanied by Cambodia Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (L) and Thailand Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (R) speaks in a news conference after a meeting in Jakarta February 22, 2011
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (C), accompanied by Cambodia Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (L) and Thailand Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (R) speaks in a news conference after a meeting in Jakarta February 22, 2011

Thailand and Cambodia agreed Tuesday to accept Indonesian observers and avoid further clashes over a border dispute. The agreement is a victory for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its current head the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa who took on a high profile role in mediating the dispute.

After hosting a meeting in Jakarta between the Cambodian foreign minister and his Thai counterpart, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa announced that a unique arrangement had been reached to end the violent clashes between the two countries. Both sides have been fighting over a territory near a historical Hindu Khmer temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

The foreign ministers, he says, have agreed to what he called an unofficial ceasefire, to allow in unarmed Indonesian military and civilian observers to enforce the ceasefire, and to hold further bilateral talks with Indonesian participation in the near future.

Natalegawa says he is not concerned that the ceasefire is unofficial as long as both sides adhere to it.

"The statement speaks of avoidance of armed conflict and which is what our understanding of a ceasefire is. And so there will be further meeting between the two sides to try to really solidify the present situation. So I am not going to be trapped into legality of is there a ceasefire or not a ceasefire. As long as the guns are silent and the artillery is not making nosies,” Natalegawa said. “I will be quite happy then."

Southeast Asia political analyst Carl Thayer is with the University of New South Wales. He credits Natalegawa, who as chairman of ASEAN took the diplomatic initiative to visit both countries in the past month, and got involved in meetings at the United Nations Security Council in New York. He says the successful mediation efforts gives ASEAN new credibility on issues that affect peace and stability in the region.

"I am very optimistic. It is a very big step for ASEAN,” Thayer stated. “The issue was taken before the UN Security Council and it threw the hot potato to ASEAN to follow through on. And Indonesia as chair, its foreign minister has taken a proactive role and has got the agreement of Thailand and Cambodia to show up when Thailand was saying it could only be settled bilaterally."

ASEAN has a strict policy of non-interference in member states' internal affairs and has been criticized for doing too little to resolve conflicts and preserve regional security. But Natalegawa say when the conflict began in early February, he saw a role for ASEAN to play.

"This is a seminal development in ASEAN's capacity to deal with conflict situation. When the conflict broke out last fourth of February, as head of ASEAN we were sure, certain that sooner or later this issue will come on ASEAN's lap. So it is best that we start early and have the advantage of time and have the advantage of setting the tone," Natalegawa said.

While the ceasefire is a significant breakthrough, Natalegawa says the mediation process is just beginning and finding a permanent solution to the border dispute will take more time and negotiation.

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