Home International UN Security Council withholds involvement in temple conflict

UN Security Council withholds involvement in temple conflict


New York : The UN Security Council Monday asked South-East Asian nations to work out a solution to the Thai-Cambodian conflict over the site of a centuries-old Hindu temple, in an apparent rebuff of demands for the UN to become directly involved.

The council gave support to “active efforts” of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has scheduled a ministerial meeting later this month in Jakarta to seek a settlement, including a permanent ceasefire along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Some Security Council members had considered fresh Thai-Cambodian fighting near the 1,000-year-old Hindu Preah Vihear Temple a matter between the two countries and not an issue of international peace and security requiring its intervention. Both Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers, who appeared before the council in New York, agreed that ASEAN is the third party to mediate the conflict.

“The members of the UN Security Council expressed their grave concern about the recent armed clashes between Cambodia and Thailand,” Brazilian Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the council president, said in a statement following the meeting.

Viotti said the council called on both sides to exercise “maximum restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation”.

“The members of the Security Council further urged the parties to establish a permanent ceasefire and to implement it fully and resolve the situation peacefully and through effective dialogue,” Viotti said.

She told reporters that the council meeting was aimed at supporting “bilateral and regional mediation efforts” rather than involving the council in the conflict resolution.

“The idea is to work in synergy with regional efforts, and right now regional effort is in full force,” Viotti said.

She noted that Thai and Cambodian officials each showed maps to the council to defend their cases and the geographical circumstances that had led to the fighting.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters that the council meeting gave him “much more optimism” than before he came to New York.

He said both Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had “loudly and clearly” voiced support for dialogue and a peaceful resolution during the closed-door meeting.

Natalegawa said there was “clear support” by council members and the two parties for dialogue, a permanent ceasefire and the ASEAN role in the conflict. He said currently the ceasefire is holding.

“The issue here is to extract a clear commitment from Thailand and Cambodia for a peaceful resolution,” Natalegawa said, indicating that the ASEAN meeting would put pressure on the two countries to accept a resolution. He said Kasit and Hor had “professed peaceful intent” before the council and that Jakarta should “flesh it out”.

Kasit told reporters at UN headquarters that his country and Cambodia have “so much in common” that they should resolve the conflict and move on. Thailand has provided development assistance to Cambodia and will continue to do so, he said.

“We did not shoot first – we responded,” Kasit said.

He denied that Thai troops had used cluster bombs against Cambodia.

But Hor Namhong accused Thailand of “aggression,” saying that military experts had evidence that cluster munitions were used, in violation of an international convention banning the practise.

Hor, who last week sent a letter demanding Security Council intervention in the fighting, said after the meeting that ASEAN will be the third-party mediator in the conflict.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated the Preah Vihear Temple a World Heritage site in 2008. The bone of contention remains the 4.6-square-km plot of land near the site, which is claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but said nothing about the land. UNESCO’s decision to give international status to the temple in 2008 fuelled the dispute between the two countries.