Army chief vows talks regardless of ICJ ruling
27 Jan 2013
Negotiations will be pursued no matter how the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rules on the territorial dispute with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple, army commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha says.
But he added that the army is prepared to use force as a last resort.
Gen Prayuth's remarks came as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday chaired a meeting with top military brass and the government's lawyers to form its strategy ahead of the hearings at the ICJ over the disputed land surrounding Preah Vihear.
Phnom Penh has asked the ICJ to reinterpret its 1962 judgement which awarded the temple to Cambodia. The ruling, however, did not mention an area of 4.6 square kilometres surrounding the temple that both countries claim.
Oral hearings are set to take place on April 15-19 and a verdict is expected in October.
Gen Prayuth said that no matter what the ICJ rules, negotiations with Cambodia will be pursued. "We have procedures to follow if border clashes occur," he said. "But at the end of the day, [the dispute] will be concluded at the negotiating table.
"Going to war is not an option. In the disputed area we have to comply with the rules," he said. "If there is a breach of the rules, the proper action is to protest."
He said it is the government's job to prepare for the upcoming legal battle and to consider its course of action once the court's verdict is issued.
The government, however, said it is confident in its legal argument ahead of the April hearings. The line of the arguments will focus on the ICJ's 1962 ruling.
Nattawut Pothisaro, a deputy permanent secretary at the Foreign Ministry, said the meeting made some suggestions for arguments that would be used during the hearings.
The legal team is led by Thai ambassador to the Hague, Veerachai Palasai.
"After listening to Mr Veerachai, everyone is confident and believes we're on the right track," Mr Nattawut said.
He said the 1962 ruling made three key points: the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia; Thailand is requested to withdraw its troops from the temple and the surrounding area; and Thailand is requested to return artefacts to Cambodia.
"The ICJ never ruled on the [surrounding] territory," Mr Nattawut said. "The legal team will show the court it can't make interpretations beyond the focus of its original ruling."
The preparations for the oral hearings are nearly finished pending a review of some of the details, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana will lead the legal team to London on Feb 8-9 to meet with foreign legal experts to prepare for the case.
Mr Nattawut said another meeting will take place after Mr Phongthep returns from London.
He said that while the Foreign Ministry is responsible for maintaining diplomatic ties, the military would keep an eye on the border to protect national sovereignty.
He said that both countries would soon start clearing landmines from the demilitarised zone in line with an ICJ order.
Meanwhile, the war of words between Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva continued yesterday.
Mr Surapong was criticised by the Democrat leader for being a mouthpiece for the Cambodian government. He had read a statement by the Cambodian government that was critical of the Democrats.
"The Democrat Party should stop lying," Mr Surapong said.
"If it has evidence to prove the alleged conflict of interest, just bring it forward. It is the last time that I will talk about this. I will focus my efforts on the ICJ case," he said.
He added that he read the statement to rebut the Democrat Party's accusations against the Yingluck government and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr Surapong blamed the previous Democrat-led government for causing the legal dispute.
He said the Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh told him that Cambodia's petition to the ICJ was forced by the Abhisit government's actions.
Mr Abhisit yesterday called on Ms Yingluck to do more to protect the country's sovereignty instead of focusing on his dispute with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.