|Renewed fighting along the Thai-Cambodia border has claimed nearly 20 lives in the last two weeks [AFP]|
Southeast Asian leaders have failed to resolve a festering border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia at a two-day regional summit in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
The leaders of the two feuding neighbours did not reach a lasting ceasefire after their Sunday talks, mediated by Susilo Bamban Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president and host of the 18th annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister, and his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, instead agreed to stay an extra day in Jakarta for more dialogue.
Clashes have been erupting intermittently around crumbling ancient Hindu temples. Nearly 20 lives have been lost in the last two weeks and tens of thousands of people sent fleeing.
Hun Sen said after Sunday’s unscheduled meeting that the row was “spoiling” the summit, which was supposed to focus on the 10-nation group’s long-stated plans to boost regional security and alleviate economic disparities.
“Everyone knows that the problem of the Thai-Cambodia border has been spoiling the atmosphere and also creates a challenge for ASEAN,” he said.
Abhisit said that while “differences remain”,’ the two sides agreed, at least, that future discussions about the disputed border should include the major sticking point about where troops from each country should be deployed.
“The ultimate objective must be to achieve lasting peace not to score political points,” he said.
Veering off topic
The summit was supposed to focus on developing an integrated regional economic zone with free movement of people and goods by 2015.
But what stole the show were regional security concerns, such as the potentially oil-rich Spratly islands claimed by China and four ASEAN nations – a dispute that worries the US as well – and the Thailand-Cambodia row.
Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam worry that China may use its military force to seize the area or assume de facto control with naval patrols – an act which may threaten one of the world’s busiest commercial sea lanes.
Member states agreed to work towards ending a nine-year disagreement with China that has blocked completion of guidelines, for an accord aimed at preventing armed conflicts over the disputed islands.
As part of that deal, the claimant nations could pursue joint development projects to ease tensions in the South China Sea region.
Myanmar was approved to take over ASEAN’s rotating chair in 2014 despite having been forced to skip its turn in 2005 amid concerns over its poor human-rights record.
Human Rights Watch, the US-based independent group, has said ASEAN, already struggling for credibility, would become the “laughing stock of intergovernmental forums” if it gave the chair to such a pariah state.