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Thai-Cambodia and Malaysia-Singapore conflicts: ASEAN Foreign Ministers should hold urgent meeting to devise  a conflict resolution mechanism among member countries to protect the international  credibility and integrity of ASEAN


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Friday): On Wednesday, the Thai Commerce Minister Adisai Bodhamarik flew into Phnom Penh from Bangkok to lead  a trade mission to Cambodia, only to find on his arrival Cambodians rioting against the Thais in the Cambodian capital, with protesting Cambodians looting and setting fire to the Thai Embassy in Cambodia. Adisai remained  at the airport and was later instructed by the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to  return to Thailand.

Thailand has closed its border with Cambodia, downgraded relations, and evacuated its nationals from Phnom Penh. Thai military transport planes evacuated hundreds of Thai nationals huddled at the airport in Phnom Penh after fleeing the rioting.  All checkpoints along the common border are now closed to Cambodian nationals. Bangkok also asked Cambodia's ambassador to leave. 

 

The swift degeneration  of relations between Cambodia and Thailand has raised fundamental questions about the international credibility and integrity of ASEAN as it was only  two months ago that the 8th ASEAN Summit was held in Phnom Penh in November last year, where the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, proposed  the "The Phnom Penh Agenda " to enhance co-operation and deepen solidarity among ASEAN nations to maintain peace and mutual security.

 

All the bonhomie, camaraderie and extravaganza of the 8th ASEAN Summit two months ago proved both  skin-deep and short-lived  when  animosities and conflicts among ASEAN member nations could so easily flare up  and go  out of control.

 

In Beijing, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yi  yesterday met with the ambassadors of Thailand and Cambodia respectively and expressed the hope that the two governments of the two countries could resolve their differences calmly to bring their bilateral relations back on track as soon as possible and that ASEAN member countries could maintain solidarity and stability.

 

It is a shame and  a major setback for ASEAN, as no ASEAN government had expressed any concern at the deterioration of Thai-Cambodian relationship, although it had resulted  in the unprecedented  downgrading of their diplomatic relations, when ASEAN should have been in the forefront to express concern and to address the worsening of intra-ASEAN government/country relations threatening to make a mockery ASEANís raison díetre to uphold neutrality, peace and stability in the region.

 

ASEAN Foreign Ministers should hold an  urgent meeting to devise  a conflict resolution mechanism among member countries to protect the international  credibility and integrity of ASEAN to prevent the recurrence of any  quick and sharp worsening of relations between two ASEAN nations, as happened between Thailand and Cambodia.  

 

The regrettable worsening and flare-up of Thai-Cambodian relatilons resulting in riots and downgrading of diplomatic relations should also be an eye-opener for Malaysian-Singapore relations and a reminder that there had been too much loose talk, including war talk, on both sides of the Johore straits which had poisoned the bilateral relationship.

Both governments should seriously consider the possibility of establishing a Eminent Persons Group (EPG) comprising an equal number of eminent citizens from both Malaysia and Singapore to devise a formula to resolve outstanding bilateral differences or a mechanism to deal with them without any more  loose talk and sabre-rattling from either side.

 

Nobody wants after the Thai-Cambodia incident to see another  flare-up and downgrading of diplomatic relations between two ASEAN neighbours, this time between Malaysia and Singapore in the run-up to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Conference to be hosted by Malaysia later this month.

                                                                       

(31/1/2003)


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman