Saturday, 12 February 2011

ASEAN to discuss Thai-Cambodia skirmishes over shrine dispute

via CAAI

Jaishree Balasubramanian

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 12 (PTI) As tension continues to simmer on the Thailand and Cambodia border over a 11th century Hindu Shiva temple, a concerned Asean grouping has asked all its foreign ministers to meet for an urgent conclave to discuss the Preah Vihar shrine dispute.

The invitations to the foreign ministers have been sent by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the current Asean chair and the meeting is set to be held on February 22.

While Cambodia has sought an urgent Security Council meeting calling for a UN buffer force to be put in place, Thailand has said the dispute should be resolved bilaterally.

Meanwhile, Thailand has said that more than 20,000 soldiers will be deployed on the Thai-Cambodian border as part of a national defence plan and an incident action plan approved by the army commander, ''Bangkok Post'' quoted army sources as saying today.
The plan is to remain in effect till March 30.

The main entrance of the Shiva temple known as Preah Vihar is officially on the Cambodian side but most of the other parts of the temple spill over to the Thai side.

Officially the foreign ministers have been invited to discuss "regional and international issues," but the purpose of the meeting is clear, senior Asean officials told the Bangkok Post.

The Indonesian foreign minister has met both Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers so far.

He has said that Asean''s role is one that supports bilateral efforts to resolve the conflict.

Recent reports after the border clash a couple of weeks back had said that parts of the temple had been damaged in the recent skirmishes between the two neighbours after Cambodian troops used the shrine as a military base to fire on the Thai soldiers.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has sent a letter to the UN Security Council saying Thailand''s action during the clashes last week with Cambodia was appropriate and is in line with international principles.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged both the countries to come up with mechanisms to solve their disputes and end armed confrontation as soon as possible.
US has also called for Thailand and Cambodia to exercise restraint.

The construction of the first temple at the site began in the early 9th century and continued in the following centuries dedicated to Shiva in his manifestations as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara, online reports said.

The earliest surviving parts of the temple dates from early 10th century, when the empire''s capital was at the city of that name.

In the wake of the decline of Hinduism in the region the site was converted to use by Buddhists.

In 1954, Thai forces occupied the temple following the withdrawal of French troops from Cambodia.

Cambodia protested and turned to the International Court of Justice which later ruled in 1962 that the shrine belonged to Cambodia.

No Cambodian-Thai border commission meeting in later Feb: official

via CAAI

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian border chief said Saturday that no meeting of the Cambodian-Thai Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) would be held later February.

"There will be no meeting of the JBC later this month," said Var Kimhong, president of JBC. "Now, bilateral mechanism cannot resolve the issue."

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Thai Foreign Minister, said on Feb. 7 that the JBC was scheduled to meet in the last week of February.

The United Nations Security Council is to hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the Cambodian-Thai border conflict.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya will report to the meeting about the issue. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country is the current chairman of the ASEAN, will also attend the meeting.

The latest clashes between Cambodia and Thailand on Feb. 4-7 had killed at least 8 people and injured 67 on both sides, and tens of thousands of the two countries' villagers nearby the disputed area fled for safe shelters.

The border between Thailand and Cambodia has never been completely demarcated. Although the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that an 11th century temple itself belonged to Cambodia, the row over the 4.6-square-km territory around the temple has never been resolved.

Editor: Lu Hui

Thailand Continue Beating Drums of War as UN Security Council Readies to Meet

via CAAI

Phnom Penh, February 12,2011, AKP–It is sending 20,000 troops to the border, deploying its navy and air force to do aerial surveillance of Cambodian positions and also practiced electronic jamming.

While ASEAN has called on all foreign ministers to gather in Jakarta on 22nd February, and while the UNSC readies to meet on 14th February, Thailand is ratcheting up its antics and contrary to deescalating the tenacious border, is sending more than 20,000 soldiers who will be deployed along the Thai-Cambodian border as part of a national defense plan and an incident action plan.

These actions shows the true colors of Thailand’s diplomacy – while it claims Cambodia is the aggressor in the four days of deadly clashes, Thailand is taking extraordinary provocative measures that has one and only intent – to wage all out war on Cambodia if it fails to convince the international community of its supposed innocence.

By sending two jet fighters in such close proximity to the border was an attempt to do a quick over fly to gather aerial intelligence on Cambodian positions and also try out sensing electronics to pin-point Cambodian SAM positions. This was no accident as claimed later by the Thai authorities. War start on such as mistakes.

In addition, from just infantry fighting, than the air force being threatened to be unleashed against Cambodia, knowing well that Cambodia does not have an air force, Thailand is also deploying is navy.

What does this all mean – deploying tens of thousands of additional troops, arming villagers with shot guns, deploying the air force in such close proximity to Cambodia and deploying its naval forces to Cambodia’s border?

The meaning is only one. That Thailand has lost its plot and is preparing itself for a military onslaught against Cambodia as the world knows that Thailand is to be blamed for the real war all these decades and especially that of the past week.

Thailand, sources well placed in Bangkok say, fears an immense loss of face when it was forced to explain to the international community on the situation, threatened to pull out of UNESCO, warned the UNESCO not to send a inspection team to see up close the damage Thai troops had done to the World Heritage of Preah Vihear temple.

It was hoping against hope that Cambodia would back down from its position to go the UNSC as Cambodia has done previously. This time, Cambodia persisted and its diplomatic offensive caught Thailand by surprise so Thailand had to react in a stupidly and hastily planned diplomatic damage control by claiming to be victims.

Too late Thailand. The world has caught you with your hands in the cookie jar – the Preah Vihear temple.

This time, do the honorable thing by accepting the international community. The time to threaten, use of force and military might over the temple is over in this era of Globalization.

The time for the international community to clearly spell out the ICJ ruling and make Thailand accept it or face sanctions is the only way to resolve this crisis once and for all.

Cambodia has suffered for centuries and decades under Thai oppression and invasion. This stops now.

by T. Mohan, a long time Political Analyst in Cambodia
(The comments are solely the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Government of Cambodia.)

Thai Anti-government Protesters Continue to Rally in Bangkok

via CAAI


About 2,000 members of the People's Alliance for Democracy walked from the Government House to the Royal Plaza in Bangkok Friday. It happened as the MPs held a parliamentary vote for a charter amendment on electoral law. The protesters have been camping out there since January 25th.

Although the Thai government imposed the Internal Security Act on Tuesday, police took no action against the protesters, but blocked the road that led to the Parliament House to prevent any disruption by demonstrators.

Also at the heart of the protest, a 900-year-old temple along the Thai-Cambodia border that both countries claim as their own.

The protesters accuse Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of being weak in dealing with Cambodia and have also accused his coalition members of massive corruption.

[Sarunyoo Wongkrachang, People's Alliance for Democracy]:
"The only thing we have is our heart filled with patriotism. We have only our hearts and we need to make it known on stage. That's our objective."

The protesters demanded the government revoke a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2000 with Cambodia. They say Thailand is at a disadvantage from the agreement.

They have also called on the government to withdraw from the World Heritage Committee and push back Cambodians who live along the Thai and Cambodia conflict area.

[Surasak Tosom, Protester]:
"The government said they will do things to benefit the people and the country, but they have not done what they said. So they should step down and let people who have the knowledge and ability do so take their place."

Thailand and Cambodia faced growing diplomatic pressure to end the conflicts over the temple, following the deadliest fighting in years.

The temple sits on a triangular plateau that forms a natural border between Thailand and Cambodia.

Both sides have been locked in a standoff since July 2008, when the temple was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, which Thailand opposed on grounds that territory around the temple had never been demarcated.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu's Regular Press Conference on February 10, 2011

via CAAI

On the afternoon of February 10, 2011, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu held a regular press conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Happy Spring Festival! Welcome to the first press conference in the Chinese New Year. We have the first snow this winter today in Beijing. A timely snow promises an auspicious year. Wish you good luck in the coming year!

This year is the Year of Rabbit, a friendly, peaceful, speedy and smart animal. I sincerely hope you will report on China faster and better in the coming year. My colleagues and I will spare no efforts to provide you assistance and convenience.

Q: Cambodia and Thailand engaged in armed conflicts in their border area lately. What role has China played in easing the tension? It is learned that the Security Council will hold a meeting on 14th to discuss the border situation between Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia hopes the UN will send troops to the border area. What is your attitude on the involvement of the Security Council and the UN sending peace-keeping troops to the border area?

A: Both Cambodia and Thailand are friendly neighbors of China. Since the start of the conflicts, China has stayed in close contact with both sides and pushed for settlement of the dispute through consultation between them. China calls on both sides to keep calm and exercise restraint so as to avoid further escalation of the situation.

On your second question, we have taken note of the reports and will stay in communication with all relevant parties.

Q: How do you comment on the latest developments in Egypt? The Chinese Government has sent several planes to take back Chinese nationals in Egypt since demonstrations broke out. Can you update us on it?

A: China has been following the developments in the Egyptian situation. Egypt is a major Arabic and African country and the stability of Egypt concerns the peace and stability of the whole region.

China understands and supports Egypt's efforts to maintain social stability and restore normal order, and holds that the affairs of Egypt should be decided by itself independently without intervention from the outside. China believes Egypt has the wisdom and capability to find proper solutions so as to get through the current tough time.

China cherishes the traditional friendship and strategic cooperation with Egypt, and believes that the friendly relations between the two countries will continue to develop in a sound and steady manner.

The Chinese Government has attached great importance to safety of Chinese nationals in Egypt since demonstrations broke out in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. The Foreign Ministry and the Embassy in Egypt took various emergency measures immediately to provide consular protection and assistance for Chinese nationals. From January 31 to February 3, the Chinese Government sent eight planes to take back over 1800 Chinese nationals in total, including about 360 from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. At present, Chinese tourists and delegations in Egypt have been basically taken back.

We will continue to closely follow the developments in the Egyptian situation and coordinate with relevant departments to protect safety of Chinese institutions and nationals in Egypt.

Q: The DPRK and the ROK held a preparatory meeting ahead of high-level military talks from 8th to 9th and failed to reach an agreement on relevant matters. How do you comment?

A: China always supports reconciliation and cooperation between the DPRK and the ROK. We hope the two sides will keep the momentum of dialogue and contact, meet each other halfway and work together to play a constructive role in improving relations with each other and safeguarding peace and stability on the Peninsula.

Q: It is reported that Brazil and India accused China of its exchange rate policy. How do you comment? And could you comment on China’s relations with Southern Sudan following the Referendum?

A: It is China’s set policy to establish a managed floating exchange rate regime, which is in our long-term and fundamental interests. We will continue to proceed with reform of the RMB exchange rate regime under the principle of independent decision-making. A great many facts have proved that the RMB exchange rate is not the main cause that leads to the trade imbalance between China and the US, nor will the appreciation of the RMB solve the trade deficit issue between the two. We have never intentionally sought a trade surplus, nor has the Chinese Government ever benefited from international trade through so-called exchange rate manipulation. We hope relevant individuals will treat the issue objectively and rationally.

The Southern Sudan Referendum was held smoothly and its results announced officially days ago. China respects the will and choice of the Sudanese people, supports the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and would like to develop friendly relations and cooperation with Southern Sudan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence.

Q: Wi Sung-lac, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Head of Delegation to the Six-Party Talks arrived in Beijing today. The ROK Government hoped to bring the DPRK uranium enrichment issue to the UN Security Council. How do you comment?

A: Wi Sung-lac, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Head of Delegation to the Six-Party Talks visits China today and tomorrow. As far as I know, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs of the Chinese Government Wu Dawei will meet with him respectively. The two sides will exchange views on the situation on the Peninsula and other issues of common interest.

It is China’s consistent and staunch position to realize denuclearization on the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation and safeguard peace and stability in Northeast Asia. We hope the parties will work together to create conditions for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks, seek to properly address respective concerns through dialogue and consultation and comprehensively implement the various goals set in the September 19 Joint Statement.

Q: You talked about Wi Sung-lac’s visit to China just now and Japan’s newly-appointed Head of Delegation to the Six-Party Talks visited China as well on January 30. With such intensive interactions among the parties, does it mean the Six-Party Talks will resume in the near future?

A: It is a shared aspiration of us all. China will work with other parties toward that goal.

Q: It is reported that the US FBI is investigating attacks carried out by Chinese hackers against major western energy companies. Do you know about it and how do you comment? Second, the US Treasury Department didn’t list China as a currency manipulator in its biannual report on exchange rate policies, but urged the RMB’s speedy appreciation. What is your comment?

A: On your first question, I don’t know about relevant information.

On your second question, I already answered in principle just now. China establishes a managed floating exchange rate regime based on market demand and supply with reference to a basket of currencies. The Chinese Government will continue to proceed with reform of the RMB exchange rate regime.

UNESCO names former director-general Koichiro Matsuura as special envoy on Preah Vihear

via CAAI

PARIS, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has named its former director- general Koichiro Matsuura as special envoy to address the issue of Preah Vihear, the Paris-based UN cultural branch announced on Friday.

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO has informed Cambodia and Thailand about the mission of Matsuura.

Matsuura will "visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss how the World Heritage site can be safeguarded" and "examine with both sides how to lessen tension and promote dialogue around the preservation of the Temple," according to a statement issued by UNESCO.

Bokova expressed concerns over the protection of the Preah Vihear Temple, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008 but sparked clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, both claiming sovereignty over the antique temple.

Recent military confrontations on the border between the two states have caused deaths and injuries, as well as damages to the temple.

UNESCO called on Cambodia and Thailand to respect the World Heritage Convention of 1972, as both are signatories to the convention.

Editor: yan

Lots of talking but little in the way of diplomacy

via CAAI

By The Nation
Published on February 12, 2011

As the border conflict simmers, both Thailand and Cambodia should withdraw troops from the area and sit down at the negotiating table

All eyes will be on the UN Security Council this Monday when Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Nam Hong present their cases to the 15-member body. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, in his capacity as chair of the Asean Standing Committee, will also make a statement.

Considering the microphone diplomacy, the Monday showdown could very well be a juicy event. Cambodian PM Hun Sen is accusing his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva of committing war crimes, and accusing Thai troops of using cluster bombs against Cambodian civilians and damaging the historic Hindu temple of Preah Vihear. The Thai Army denies the accusations, saying their targets were military.

For a man who used to run with the Khmer Rogue, it appears that the Cambodian leader has gone soft when one takes into consideration his benchmark for what constitutes a war crime. Let's not forget that he has done just about every thing to obstruct the ongoing UN tribunal on former Khmer Rouge cadres charged with crimes against humanity.

At the heart of the problem is the overlapping claim along the Thai-Cambodian border near the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple, whose ownership the World Court decided three decades ago in favour of Phnom Penh. It can be said that a time bomb was also put in place because the overlapping disputed area was not ruled upon.

Bangkok has faulted Unesco for exacerbating the sovereignty spat when it declared the temple a World Heritage site in July 2008 despite Thai objections. Today, the two sides continue to claim ownership over the 4.6-square-kilometre areas surrounding the temple. As they beef up the border with soldiers, they also beat the nationalist drum for the ears of their supporters while paying lip service to the need to strengthen bilateral ties.

Sadly, politicians and political groups from both countries milk the situation for their own selfish gain, while at the same time heightening the political stakes and making it harder for either government to come up with any compromise without looking weak.

For the time being, both Thailand and Cambodia are behaving with the same degree of intransigence, stubbornly refusing to budge on how to move this forward. Bangkok wants to settle the dispute bilaterally while Phnom Penh took the matter to the UN Security Council. The two sides talk about settling the matter diplomatically but in fact they are equally as pigheaded when it comes to agreeing on the modality to settle the dispute. Perhaps they want to keep using military means to serve their political purposes but don't have the courage to say so because such talk is unacceptable in this day and age.

If this dispute becomes internationalised, Thailand stands to lose face in the long run, as the 1962 ruling will be amplified and make Thailand look as if it is still crying over spilled milk.

What is lacking is a game plan from the Thai side. Bangkok appears to be reacting to Phnom Penh's every move. At first, Thailand said it would deal with the issue bilaterally. But when Phnom Penh wrote to the Security Council, Bangkok began dancing to the Cambodian tune. And this Monday the two ministers, plus the Asean chair, will be in New York to state their positions.

First of all, Kasit didn't have to write to the Security Council. He should just have stayed the course. In 2008, during the administration of the late Samak Sundaravej, Thailand used diplomatic means to block Cambodia's attempt to reach the Security Council, in spite of the fact that at the time Cambodia's good friend Vietnam was the chair. It was the same issue involving armed clashes along the border.

The ironic thing is that the Samak administration was doing this on the run, as Government House had been taken over by the yellow shirts. The then-administration stood its ground. Kasit, on the other hand, is a retired diplomat, a top one at that. And in spite of the fact that the then-government was unable to even get into Government House, foreign minister Noppadon Patama had just resigned, and deputy premier Sahat Bunditkul was quickly rushed to the Asean ministerial meeting in Singapore, Thailand's message to, and tactics toward, Cambodia, were not confusing.

So what can Kasit tell the Security Council that will make any difference? That Cambodia shot first and fired artillery into civilian territory, forcing thousands to run for their lives? And then what?

Kasit can start by asking Cambodia to respect international norms and to pull its troops back from the border, especially in the disputed area around the temple. Thailand should do the same.

Keep your talismans close, boys

via CAAI

Army says troops need protection against Khmer black magic.

Published: 12/02/2011
Online news: Local News

Si Sa Ket : The Thai army believes it needs the help of talismans to protect itself from Cambodian soldiers.

The chief of the 2nd Army Friday distributed talismans to his troops to help protect them from evil curses which he believes Cambodians are likely to call upon in their fight over disputed border areas.

As a result, soldiers guarding the border with Cambodia are now equipped with arms, life-saving kits - and talismans.

Second Army chief Thawatchai Samutsakhon issued assorted talismans to soldiers stationed at the disputed border area near the Preah Vihear temple in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district to ward off Khmer curses.

"I believe in this and I have to take care of my subordinates in every possible way," Lt Gen Thawatchai said.

Lt Gen Thawatchai is a follower of the late Luang Poo Jiam Atissayo, a respected monk at Wat Intrasukaram in Surin's Sangkha district.

When he was deputy chief of the 2nd Army and was also appointed as commander of the Pattani Task Force in the lower South, Lt Gen Thawatchai also issued amulets and talismans

consecrated by Luang Poo Jiam to soldiers from the Northeast who were deployed in the lower South.

Friday, Lt Gen Thawatchai asked Luang Phor Supat Techapalo, who is also a disciple of the late monk, to give similar talismans including takrud - a small, rolled metallic sheet inscribed with yantra symbols - and Buddha amulets to the soldiers.

The monk was also asked to sprinkle holy water and wrote yantra at military bases to bless them with good luck.

Lt Gen Thawatchai said the talismans are meant to prevent black magic reaching them. Some troops believe the Cambodians are involved in occult practices.

He said the Buddhist amulets and the talismans are also intended to boost soldiers' morale.

An army source stationed at the border said he believed Cambodian troops would perform "some kind of rituals" on Preah Vihear temple to counter the army's distribution of talismans to its troops.

On Aug 1, 2008, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's wife Bun Rany presided over a ritual at Preah Vihear temple, which raised fears among many Thais, who believed it could bring bad luck to Thailand.

UNESCO designates special envoy for Hindu temple damaged in border clashes

via CAAI

By BNO News

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Friday designated a Special Envoy to address the Preah Vihear Temple which was damaged during recent border clashes between Cambodia and Thailand.

Koichiro Matsuura, former Director-General of UNESCO, was named Special Envoy and will visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss the safety of the Hindu temple inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Matsuura will examine with both Cambodia and Thailand how to lessen tension between the two sides as well as promote dialogue for the preservation of the 11th century temple.

On Tuesday, UNESCO announced that it would send a mission to assess the damage caused by the recent armed clashes between the two South-East Asian neighbors to the temple. The Preah Vihear Temple was inscribed on the World Heritage List in July 2008.

Cambodian-Thai tensions first escalated in 2008 following the build-up of military forces near the temple, which dates back to the 11th century and is located on the Cambodian side of the border.

Last week, fighting erupted between Cambodian and Thai soldiers along the border between Thailand's Si Sa Ket province and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province. One Thai soldier, one civilian and at least three Cambodians were reportedly killed Friday and Saturday in exchanges of small arms and artillery fire.

On Saturday, Thailand and Cambodia agreed on a ceasefire both the fighting resumed on Sunday. Each side blamed the other for initiating the shooting. The fire exchange has already caused severe damage to Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called both sides for restraint as clashes resumed on Monday and have continued in recent days. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for calm as well.

The Hindu temple was dedicated to Shiva and is composed of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800-metre-long axis. The temple dates back to the first half of the 11th century AD. The site is exceptional for the quality of its carved stone ornamentation and its architecture, adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the temple.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. Info:

Vietnam did not join military exercise in Thailand

via CAAI

VietNamNet Bridge - The Vietnamese Ministry of Defense denies the information that Vietnam has sent three military officers to join the Cobra Gold military exercises in Thailand, the largest drill in Southeast Asia.

The Ministry confirmed that Vietnam only sent one military attaché to Thailand to attend the opening ceremony.

Earlier, some local and foreign sources had reported that Vietnam and nine other countries - Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Britain, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, and the Philippines – sent three personnel each to participate.

The military exercise - which is hosted annually by Thailand as a bilateral effort between the US and Thai militaries since 1982 - attracted full participation of the US, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and, for the first time, Malaysia.

AP news agency quoted Royal Thai Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Piroon Paewpolsong as saying the training this time will be focused mostly on peacekeeping support and stability operations.

Representatives from ten countries - China, India, Brunei, Laos, Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates - are also involved in this year's exercise as observers.

No offer to 'mediate', say French

via CAAI

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
The Nation
Published on February 12, 2011

A French offer to provide maps of the disputed border area between Thailand and Cambodia has been misrepresented by some Thai media outlets that claimed France had offered to "mediate" between the two countries.

Some columnists even attacked France for poking its nose where it wasn't wanted, leading the French Embassy to clarify the proposal.

"There never was any French offer of 'mediation' in the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, as some media reported," said Alain Gavillet, press attache at the French Embassy.

Yesterday, elements of the Thai media continued to misreport the news and even obtained reaction from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Some columnists wrote pieces attacking the French government for trying to interfere in Thai-Cambodia affairs.

"Pardon ... sorry but please do not poke your nose," wrote Post Today editor Nakarn Laohavilai in his column in the paper.

On Thursday, the Thai Foreign Ministry had already issued a correction regarding the "misunderstanding".

Thani Thongphakdi, director-general of the Department of Information and spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said, "There may have been some misunderstanding about the proposal as France had not offered to mediate between the two countries as some media had reported.

"Rather, France had expressed its readiness to provide access to maps of the region it had made in the early 20th Century should any country wish to study or make copies of them."

A press release from Thani added that Thailand welcomed the offer.

"In fact, Thailand had in the past received good cooperation from Quai d'Orsay, which had given Thai officials access to their archives several times before.

Should there be additional maps that Thailand has not yet examined, it would certainly consider examining such maps without prejudice to its boundary claims."

Khmer-Thai Clashed on the border of Preah Vihear

Peace Holding On Thai-Cambodia Border over Disputed Temple

via CAAI


On Thursday, Cambodian officials brought rice and instant noodles to the camps set up along the border with Thailand. Four days of clashes raged between soldiers from both sides around a disputed temple.

Cambodia's prime minister says the clashes constitute an act of war.

Cambodia and Thailand say they are not increasing their military forces on the border and say they’re acting with as much restraint as possible.

But witnesses on the Thai side saw tanks, armored vehicles and fighter jets on the move.

Thailand and Cambodia blame each other for the clashes. The clashes have killed at least three Thais and eight Cambodians. At least 34 Thais and 55 Cambodians were wounded.

Two TV stations have collected donations for the soldiers and refugees at the Cambodian border camp. They set up a foundation on Saturday to help people on the frontline.

More than a thousand refugees fled their homes and stayed at the camp about 20 miles from Preah Vihear temple since the fighting started.

[Mam Seila, Refugee]:
“My children and I went to hide on higher ground. Then I saw about 80 to 90 shrapnel pieces that landed on my house. So, God blessed me and my kids to survive.”

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen appealed to all local authorities to take care of the refugees and soldiers who were wounded from the fighting.

In Cambodia's northern frontier areas, schools and temples have been turned into shelters for several thousand displaced people.

The reason for the clashes still remains unknown.

The two countries are in dispute over the land surrounding the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple.

The key is cooperation

via CAAI

Published: 12/02/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

What do the following 9 pairs of countries have in common: Argentina & Brazil; Austria & Hungary; Canada & USA; Costa Rica & Panama; France & Spain; Guinea & Ivory Coast; Hungary & Slovakia; Lithuania & Russia; Zambia & Zimbabwe?

Answer: all are co-hosts of World Heritage sites. In other words, all those pairings have cooperated in applying for and maintaining officially recognised World Heritage sites.

Thailand and Cambodia could be the first Asian countries on that list, if they could find a way to cooperate on the Preah Vihear Temple complex. Twenty people could do the job of administrating and upkeep of the jointly maintained parcel of land.

Chiang Rai


Of a political stripe
I read Suranand Vejjajiva's comment (BP, Feb 11) with tears brimming _ tears of pity, both for my country and for the man himself.

I heard that the people in England before World War Two were so boisterous you'd think they were on the brink of killing each other. Political gatherings and speeches attacking the government happened on a daily basis. But when World War II broke out, all opponents suddenly became friends and united as one until the country was victorious.

After the war, however, the English came back to the business of being democratically boisterous again. That is democracy.

Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has just declared war with Thailand: a number of our people and soldiers have been killed. Hun Sen has used lightning-fast diplomacy in trying to embarrass Thailand in front of the world community.

Mr Suranand's comment, despite having been beautifully and descriptively written, was narrow-mindedly political and improper. He has shown no respect for the dead, the injured and the desperately home-forsaken of his own country. He should have learned when to act as a politician and when to act as a Thai citizen.

I dare declare that there are at least two countries in this world that have been ganging up on Thailand (Siam) since 1907 over Preah Vihear. They are still doing it now. No matter what the final outcome of this controversy is, this belief of mine will never change. Look up the history of this region a hundred years past and you will understand how and why. Thailand cannot do anything much because it is still striving to be a good member of the world community _ not because it is fearful or selfish or has done anything wrong in any way. We just want peace and the joy of being called ''the Land of Smiles''. Besides, Buddha has taught us to forgive those who have been bad to us.

Chiang Mai


Access from Cambodia
I have lost count of the number of letters I have read in Postbag over the past few years, claiming it is not possible or very hard to access Preah Vihear Temple from the Cambodian side. This is utter rubbish and I can only assume that none of these people have ever visited Cambodia, let alone travelled to the temple from Cambodia.

If you want to visit the temple from Bangkok you are talking about a 7- or 8-hour journey. About three years ago, Cambodia built a beautiful road from Siem Reap to the temple and since then it has been possible to get there in comfort in around 3 hours. Granted, getting up the hill is not so simple and until recently you were forced to pay a few dollars for a military truck to take you up there if you weren't fit enough to make the climb.

As for Khun Songdej's claim (Postbag, Feb 11) that the surrounding disputed area is vulnerable to military conflict, hello! This is because Thailand decided to escalate the problem, not the Khmers, who seemed happy to finally start benefiting from the tourist dollars the temple would bring.

I can only assume the escalation was because Thai authorities knew fully well that any right-minded tourist would go for the 3-hour Cambodian journey over the 8-hour Thai option.

Blaming Unesco seems to be a typically Thai response: blaming someone else for your own problems.



The other side's ahead
The Thai-Cambodian border conflict has turned out to be as fascinating as the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sam Kok in Thai).

When Cambodia declared that the bloody conflict has become a war between the two countries, it promptly referred the matter to the UN Security Council and requested the deployment of a UN peace-keeping force.

Kasit Piromya, the Thai foreign minister, has suddenly realised that the border dispute is no longer a mumbo-jumbo allegation from the PAD which he has just branded as childish, nor is it a see-saw game as his army colleagues wish to portray _ restraint and retaliate in the same proportional force as the enemy has imposed on us. So Kasit jolted the audience by alleging that France, Russia and India were backing up Hun Sen, whom he now referred to as a ''bully boy''.

No matter how you look at it, the Cambodian side is one step ahead of the Thais.

In The Three Kingdoms, we are told that during the final years of the Su nation when there were no capable generals left, a middle-ranking army officer named Liu Hwa was allowed to be the front man in charging the enemy. Do we even have a Liu Hwa at this very crucial moment?



Let Asean mediate
Under the current situation between Thailand and Cambodia, I can see the advantage of having Asean _ in this case Indonesia as the chair _ to be a mediator. It is time for PM Abhisit and PM Hun Sen to step forward with the Indonesian president and explain to the citizens of Thailand, Cambodia and other Asean members, what they want and whether they represent the true need of their people.

This may be against Thailand's stand on policy regarding this issue, but I can see the benefits. Unlike other international forums, Thailand still has an advantage in this forum as one of Asean's founders and among the few central pillar countries of Asean politically, militarily and economically.

Considering the habitual nature of Asean's non-interference policy, it is still to Thailand's advantage to be able to lobby Asean members to eventually bring the issue back to the bilateral level while showing the world its willingness to collaborate with multilateralism vis-a-vis the international community. Having ministerial-level and commander-level talks may be proper protocol, but these may not lead to a satisfactory result, as we have seen these past few years. We must realise that the final say from the Cambodian side comes not from its generals or Vice-PM, but only its PM.

Equally important, it is necessary to understand the nature of Cambodian politics, politicians and people (as well as Thailand's); we have to bear in mind that we may never be successful in the demarcation process or final discussions even at the head-of-government level.

Thus it is recommended that Thailand propose some form of package deal to Cambodia and convince Hun Sen that we could jointly nominate the temple of Preah Vihear and its surroundings and register them with the World Heritage Committee for the benefit of both nations.



Sad state of our forests
Re: ''Dept expects forest to gain Heritage title'' (BP, Feb 11). Some facts should be known about the Kaeng Krachan forest complex. Deputy chief of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, says the Kaeng Krachan complex is more fertile than Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng and Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai complexes.

This is simply not true. There is hardly any wildlife left in both the Mae Nam Phachi Wildlife Sanctuary and Chalerm Phrakiat Thai Prachan National Park after years and years of poaching and degradation by encroachment. A few deer and pigs plus a degraded forest certainly do not constitute World Heritage status.

Ten years ago, Kaeng Krachan had many tigers and loads of wildlife along the Phetchaburi River that flows through the park, but recent reports by rangers are disturbing. Very few tracks have been found of the tiger and it is quite possible there are only a couple left here.

There is a large village of ethnic people living in the northern section of the park and access to the interior is easy for them. After many years of surveys by NGOs and park rangers, there is only one crocodile living in the Phetchaburi River.

There are some elephants and gaur but the banteng have disappeared. Even though this is the largest national park in Thailand, it is probably too late to save this once remarkable forest. Vines have now consumed much of the lower forest and trees are dying.

As for Kui Buri National Park further south, it does have some elephants, gaur and tigers, but these isolated populations are genetically in trouble. Wildlife is still in serious jeopardy as poachers continue to intrude into this forest after these animals, as shown by the recent killing of a tusker elephant in the park. The lower section has been overcome by encroachment and although the local people have been moved out, the forest has been degraded to the point of no return.

Has the World Heritage status helped the other two sites in Thailand? Maybe, but these are also under serious threat from continued intrusion and poaching, and it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel for these beautiful places.

With the present situation and outdated laws and regulations, the department is struggling to protect and save Thailand's natural heritage. The system needs a serious revamp, otherwise Thailand's wild animals and magnificent forests will soon be a thing of the past.



50-rai plan won't work
Concerning the proposal of the National Reform Committee to restrict property ownership to 50 rai per family (BP, Feb 10), the government needs to think carefully about the economic implications of such a policy.

The proposal clearly has populist appeal: it looks to be ''fair'' and to strike a blow against ''capitalist'' land owners. So far so good. But unfortunately it is also a recipe for the continued impoverishment of those who choose to stay and work on the land.

Small-lot land ownership is a poverty trap: a rural family cannot grow sufficient food or other crops to ever escape a subsistence existence, and the land title allows them to further impoverish themselves by taking out loans they have no prospect of ever being able to pay back.

The choice the government must make is between a countryside of impoverished small landowners doomed to continue falling further behind town and city dwellers in income, welfare standards and security; or allowing the rural sector to modernise, to expand and to improve the returns to those who work on the land.

There is a good example of the latter _ just look at the agricultural reforms in Brazil over the past 15 years. Agricultural production there increased almost four-fold in just 10 years between 1996 and 2006. Farm incomes have increased significantly, allowing more people to stay and work on the land, all thanks to the input of technology, private capital and modern farming techniques which are not possible in a small-holder rural economy.

If the growing income gap in Thailand is to be narrowed, the agricultural sector must be given the same opportunities as the industrial and service sectors to develop and modernise _ not hurt them. The question then is which is preferable: impoverished landowners with a land title but little else, or an agricultural sector which provides improved incomes, lifestyles and opportunities?

Khon Kaen


Subsidising monsters
Can anyone explain the sense behind keeping fuel costs down for those thoughtless members of the Thai population who spend 1 million baht-plus on a monstrous diesel-guzzling SUV that takes up 10 square metres of space?

Millions of ordinary citizens, meanwhile, are doing their best for the community and the earth by riding economical motorbikes, for which they pay nearly 40 baht a litre if they run on standard 91 petrol and, as a result, have to inhale the noxious gases produced by the SUV.

Chiang Mai


Don Mueang is best
What a comparatively pleasant experience it was flying into Don Mueang last week. The air-bridge connected the plane directly to the terminal, instead of de-planing by steps to a bus that takes passengers on a guided tour of Cobra Swamp. The luggage arrived on the carousel in approximately 10 minutes, instead of half an hour or so, and a queue of meter-taxis was parked right outside the terminal. Why can't all airports be like this?


Feature: Will normal life resume after Thailand trouble?

via CAAI

Feb 11 2011 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Friday

FORMER Stirling High School student Nicholas Burton has spoken of his shock as tensions flared between Thailand and Cambodia recently.

At least five people were killed and thousands left the area after troops clashed in-and-around the 11th-Century Preah Vihear temple.

The initial trouble began on Friday, February 4, and lasted for four days but the fall-out continues to be felt.

The following is a first-hand account of Nicholas’s thoughts and feelings during his time in Kantharalak, a town approximately 25 miles from the clashes.

IT IS now Tuesday evening, and things have calmed down considerably.

Throughout the day, traffic around Kantharalak was non-stop. The majority of it consisted of families fleeing the town for the perceived safety of the north.

I spoke to two refugees, a local shopkeeper, a soldier, two Thai journalists and a foreign reporter.

Although their attitudes and concerns differed considerably, two major themes ran through what they told me.

In complete contrast to the dozens of pick-ups racing out of town laden with families’ entire worldly possessions, all seven agreed that Kantharalak was perfectly safe.

The journalists reckoned the Cambodians didn’t want Kantharalak, and were only interested in the temple and the disputed border area around it.

The soldier, shopkeeper and refugees were certain that the Cambodians couldn’t reach Kantharalak if they tried, citing the constant stream of Thai reinforcements seen going through town in the direction of the war zone as proof.

On this point the Thais sounded more convinced than the visitors from overseas, giving far less credence to the abilities and effectiveness of the Cambodian army.

Everyone except the visiting reporter was certain of this – the Cambodians were the aggressors, and they were, to a man, hated.

Hearing a refugee who has been forced from their home – and quite possibly shelled – referring to the Cambodians in such strong terms was not unexpected.

But it was rather surprising to find well-dressed Bangkok journalists wearing the same grim mask and spitting their words with equal venom.

Although my Thai does not yet cover too many swear words, the anger in their voices and hard-set expressions more than conveyed their feelings.

Before the conflict began every school in the region had students of Cambodian descent.

At least two of my own students are, and teachers at the local high school, Kantharalak-Vittya, say the same about theirs.

Kids being kids, ‘Cambodian’ was openly used as a kind of mocking term, as almost universally Cambodians are poorer than Thais.

However, there was no real malice behind it. This is probably owing to the fact that quite a few families here in the borderlands actually speak Cambodian or Laos better than they do Thai.

The area is very much a ‘melting-pot’ of these three main ethnic groups and, as far as we could tell as outsiders looking in, everyone more or less got on okay.

So you can imagine it is something of a shock to hear that within five days the Thai attitude has gone from slightly snobbish to one marked by passionate anger.

It is very unlike them to speak with such force, especially in the company of people from overseas.

I believe the change in attitude stems from the fierce nationalism which pervades Thailand, which is far more integral and important than in most Western nations.

The Thai people are very, very proud of their history, and in particular the fact that their sovereignty and independence have been successfully defended for hundreds of years.

So it’s perhaps understandable why a foreign force – especially one thought of as generally poorer – allegedly launching this assault might well cause locals to turn on each other.

I cannot help but wonder what will happen after this crisis is over.

Will the Cambodian population of Kantharalak return? Will they be welcome? Will the ‘melting-pot’ society here ever be the same again?

On one hand, it is well-noted that, in Issan, even the most serious of matters is usually met with a laid-back attitude.

But, conversely, it’s difficult to imagine them forgetting this conflict any time soon.

The passion and venom with which the Thais I spoke to today decried Cambodia leads me to think that the latter, sadly, is the most likely outcome.

Border clash evidence to be presented to UNSC

via CAAI

BANGKOK, Feb 11 -- Thailand's Foreign Ministry has collected evidence on the recent Thai-Cambodian border clashes to clarify to a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on Monday, the ministry spokesman said here Friday.

Thani Thongphakdi, Director-General of the Department of Information, said the briefing was expected to last about an hour or an hour and a half.

It would be a closed-door meeting to be attended by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in his capacity as the current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in which Thailand and Cambodia both are members.

The meeting has been scheduled at 10am local time, he said.

Mr Thani said Thailand would present an accurate account of recent developments to the Security Council as well as provide information about the state of the overall bilateral relations between Thailand and Cambodia, which have progressed well in political, economic and social aspects, with amicable interactions between the peoples of both countries.

It will also emphasise Thailand’s commitment and efforts to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue.

Thailand would also stress that it did not intend to start a war to invade another country.

None of the clashes that took place were initiated by Thailand. Thailand responded to Cambodia’s provocation in self-defence while exercising utmost restraint. The Thai response was aimed only at military targets and confined to the areas of the clashes in an attempt to contain the incidents from escalating, he said.

Mr Thani said that during the flight transit in Paris, France, Mr Kasit would meet Asda Jayanama, chief of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC).

Mr Asda will also be in Paris to meet the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to clarify Thailand's stance on listing of Preah Vihear Temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the request to put off the consideration of the temple management plan to be proposed by Cambodia as it was a sensitive issue and led to the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia.

The information prepared by Thailand included historical documents, maps, photos and video footages arould the contested area along Thai-Cambodia border and photos of the recent clashes and the damages caused by Cambodian weapons.

Mr Kasit's entourage comprises the ministry's experienced legal experts who are keen on the border issue--Permanent Secretary Theerakun Niyom, Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs Director Genral Ittiporn Boonprakong, Thai ambassador to the Netherlands Weerachai Pladisai and Mr Thani himself. (MCOT online news)

Asean calls urgent border talks

via CAAI

All 10 FMs to discuss Thai-Cambodian rift

Published: 12/02/2011
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, the current Asean chair, has invited all Asean foreign ministers to an urgent meeting in Jakarta to discuss the Preah Vihear border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.

The spirit of friendship: AnAnubarnDamrong Pitayakom School student, right, welcomes new friends from Ban Phum Srol School, which closed during recent border clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops. Both schools are in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket. Ban Phum Srol School students have been transferred to study at other schools for their safety. JETJARAS NA RANONG

Invitations for the meeting, set for Feb 22, were sent out yesterday.

The meeting reflects Mr Marty's belief that the United Nations Security Council will endorse efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to assist Thailand and Cambodia in resolving their border dispute following fighting which erupted last weekend.

Officially, the ministers are invited to discuss "regional and international issues", but the purpose of the meeting is clear, senior Asean officials have confirmed.

As fighting broke out over the disputed border area between Thai and Cambodian troops last Friday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sought an urgent Security Council meeting and called for a UN buffer force to be put in place.

Thailand has said the dispute should be resolved bilaterally.

Mr Marty met with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Monday and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on Tuesday.

At the meetings, he described Asean's role as one that supports bilateral efforts to resolve the conflict.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Hun Sen and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Tuesday and once again offered UN help in negotiating a peace deal.

Developments moved rapidly as the UNSC met on Monday night to discuss the Thai-Cambodian conflict, urging restraint on both sides and expressing the hope that a resolution could be reached via peaceful means.

But by Wednesday the Security Council had decided to discuss the conflict as an urgent matter and invited both Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers and Mr Marty to attend a meeting of the council on Monday .

The meeting is expected to be held behind closed doors.

Mr Marty was invited to attend Monday's UNSC meeting as chair of Asean.

He spent two years on the council before taking up the post of Indonesian foreign minister, diplomatic sources in New York said.

The sources added that it was suggested to Security Council president Maria Viotti of Brazil that the body would benefit in its deliberations from a briefing from Mr Marty, who is well-known at the UN for his diplomatic abilities.Mr Marty has also been in constant contact with Mr Ban Ki-moon and Mrs Viotti.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said in a statement released on Thursday that the Asean chair's attendance at the UN Security Council meeting on Monday represents "an evolution of Asean's efforts to resolve bilateral disputes among its member states as provided by the Asean Charter".

"This is particularly important as it will set the procedure for future Asean dispute settlement mechanisms," Mr Surin said.

In his letter to the Asean foreign ministers, Mr Marty said in order to take advantage of the stated desire of both Thailand and Cambodia for a quick and peaceful settlement, he is proposing a brief and informal meeting on Feb 22 in Jakarta to deliberate on "issues or regional and international concern", a diplomatic source in Jakarta said yesterday.

Mr Marty's letter added that Asean must take note of the fast-developing situation on the Thai-Cambodian border and be mindful of the quick pace of diplomatic activities at different but coordinated forums - an apparent reference to the UNSC, the source added.

By inviting the ministers to the Jakarta meeting, the source in Jakarta said this indicates that the UNSC - while spending time to listen to both Thailand's and Cambodia 's positions - have taken heed of Mr Marty's views that Asean is ready to play a role assisting in a resolution of the dispute.

Asean senior officials said that events this past week indicate that Thailand will have to make some quick diplomatic adjustments to its strategy of sticking to its position that the border dispute and conflict can be resolved bilaterally.

20,000 troops ready to head to the border

via CAAI

Army wants B200m for 'Preah Vihear mission'

Published: 12/02/2011

More than 20,000 soldiers will be deployed along the Thai-Cambodian border as part of a national defence plan and an incident action plan approved by the army commander, an army source says.

The source yesterday said army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha approved the plan last Friday and it will remain in effect until March 30.

Under the plan, a total of 23,641 troops will be deployed at the border.

The army has also submitted a request for more than 200 million baht to support an army mission codenamed "Preah Vihear battlefield" from the cabinet, the source said.

The source said the army has also sought cabinet approval for the procurement of additional ammunition because a lot of ammunition was used in clashes with Cambodian troops between Feb 4-6. The army is also seeking an additional budget to pay for allowances for army personnel at the border.

However, the source said not all of the more than 20,000 troops will be stationed in the disputed border area.

Some will be deployed at the front lines of defence while others will be placed along the border at Sa Kaeo, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani and at the Preah Vihear temple near Si Sa Ket, the source said.

They will be given different tasks to perform in command units, combat forces, logistics units, and other units under the national defence plan.

Second Army chief Thawatchai Samutsakhon said yesterday Thai soldiers will remain at the border until peace talks between the Thai and Cambodian governments achieve results.

"I hope the talks between the government, the Foreign Ministry and the Joint Boundary Commission will improve the situation. But now, the army must continue to maintain a military presence," Lt Gen Thawatchai said.

Lt Gen Thawatchai rejected accusations by Cambodian authorities that Thai troops used cluster bombs during the border fighting.

The armed forces have adhered to an international law which bans the use of such bombs, he said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday held a teleconference with the 2nd Army chief and Si Sa Ket governor Somsak Suwansujarit to assess the border situation.

It was agreed at the meeting that the more than 21,000 villagers who fled their villages during the border clashes and who were staying at 37 temporary evacuation centres in Si Sa Ket can return home today. Lt Gen Thawatchai said Thai soldiers are ready to ensure their safety after they go back home.

Mr Somsak said although there is no guarantee that fresh fighting will not erupt at the border, the villagers have to return home because conditions at the evacuation centres are uncomfortable and the heat unbearable.

Many villagers also wanted to get back to their jobs to make money, Mr Somsak said.

The navy has also put its forces on full alert at the maritime border with Cambodia off Chanthaburi and Trat after reports that Cambodian naval vessels have entered the area.

SCCC not put off Cambodia

via CAAI

Published: 12/02/2011
Siam City Cement Plc (SCCC) is proceeding with plans for a cement plant worth 4-5 billion baht in Cambodia, brushing aside concerns about the border clashes.

Discussing SCCC’s results, from left: executive-vice president Chantana Sukumanont, managing director Philippe Arto, and chief financial officer Chandana Liyanage.

Managing director Philippe Arto said the Cambodian plant with annual capacity of one million tonnes was highly likely to be operational within five years. Thailand's second-largest cement maker has joined with a Cambodian partner to study the market potential and select a site, with the final decision expected within six months.

SCCC is the leader in the Cambodian cement market, with a 40% share of the 800,000 tonnes exported there from Thailand each year.

However, most shipments are made by sea and other land crossings besides Si Sa Ket province, where the clashes have been occurring.

"We are looking beyond the current short-term issues [between Thailand and Cambodia]. The two countries are neighbours and have common economic interests," said Mr Arto.

SCCC, one-third owned by Holcim of Switzerland, is also studying building a plant in Burma, another of its key neighbouring markets.

Investment in Burma could be in the form of acquiring an existing plant or partnering with local companies that can expand the capacity, said Mr Arto.

"Burma is one of our long-term strategic countries for growth, but no commitment has been made yet," he said.

Last year, SCCC's exports to Cambodia, Laos and Burma totalled 1.76 million tonnes, up by 7% from 2009. Another 2.8 million tonnes went to Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Cement export prices rose by US$2-3 a tonne last year to $45 and are expected to increase another $3-4 this year.

The local cement price is the lowest in the world at 112 baht per 50-kg bag of ready-mixed cement, according to SCCC.

Given the sharp rise in energy costs, that could soon increase to 120 baht a bag, said Chantana Sukumanont, an executive vice-president.

Last year's exports totalled 13.6 million tonnes, driven mainly by a huge capacity surplus of 16.3 million tonnes.

With a general election imminent, total local cement consumption is expected to grow by only 4.18% to 27.4 million tonnes this year after last year's 9.2% increase to 26.3 million tonnes, said Ms Chantana.

SCCC posted net sales of 21 billion baht last year, up by 5% from 2009 thanks to the government's Thai Khem Khaeng infrastructure investment programme and strong demand from the private sector.

However, net profit slid by 8.47% to 2.7 billion baht on lower cement prices.

In the fourth quarter alone, sales increased by 6% year-on-year to 5.33 billion baht, while net profit fell by 18.9% to 571 million baht.

SCCC shares closed yesterday on the SET at 220 baht, up two baht, in trade worth 35.25 million baht.