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Thai Military Not Participating In Thai-Cambodia Peace Talks

An overview of Cambodia's 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, February 9, 2011

Members of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission are meeting Thursday in Indonesia to again address a dispute over land surrounding a Hindu temple built 900 years ago.

Indonesia, in its role as head of the Association of South East Asia Nations, negotiated a cease-fire after clashes in February that killed killed 10 people and displaced thousands. But now the Thai military is rejecting a key element of the agreement calling for Indonesian observers to be placed along the border.

Missing in the peace talks between Thailand and Cambodia, in Indonesia, is the Thai military. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says that is because of a disagreement between the foreign ministry and military leaders in Thailand about how to deal with the border dispute.

"I think there is a clash between the two state agencies about the control over foreign policy,” Chachavalpongpun said. “And I think the military has disapproved of the foreign ministry policy towards Cambodia, which I think the military claim that it is a little bit too soft."

He says the dissension has prevented any further implementation of the cease-fire deal negotiated by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in his role as head of ASEAN in February.

The two armies clashed over a disputed area next to a Hindu Khmer temple, a historical landmark that both countries consider part of their heritage. The cease-fire called for Indonesian observers to act as monitors in the disputed region. But the Thai military has resisted allowing foreign military observers into the area, saying the matter should be resolved on a bilateral basis without third party intervention.

Chachavalpongpun says, if an agreement can be reached to send in Indonesian observers, there are still a number of logistical and support issues to be worked out. But he does not see any progress happening without the participation of the Thai military.

"I don't know how this can be compromised, sending in observers with the military continuing to reject the role of Indonesia," he said. "Because, at the end of the day, the officers say we have to work hand in hand, not with the foreign ministry, but with the army and especially those soldiers in the area. I still cannot foresee how that will happen."

Still, he says Indonesia's efforts to facilitate and maintain a cease-fire have kept pressure on both sides to keep the peace.