Monday, January 24, 2011

Inflammatory sign at border [-Thai INVADERS just couldn't accept being called INVADERS]

Bangkok Post

No issue has dogged the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva like Cambodian policy. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which are the premier's own poor decision making. But from the day his government came to power, unrelenting political pressure has been brought to bear. It has come from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has urged his army, government and media to oppose and even to attack Thailand. And it has come from Thais who openly proclaim they are more patriotic than Mr Abhisit and the rest of the nation.

This week, Mr Abhisit faces three Cambodia issues. The first is today's three rallies by groups with varied backgrounds but a single, burning aim: to force the government to cancel all border agreements with Cambodia. The ultra-hotheads among these groups actually want war. On Sunday, Mr Abhisit correctly told the country that he will not yield to these self-styled patriots. They are wrong about Thailand's long-established policy towards Cambodia. He must stick to his guns and not back down an inch.

The second issue is a nagging legal case, an absurd and personally vindictive charge. According to Phnom Penh, the two Thais, Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon of the nationalist Thai Patriots Network - equally hostile to Phnom Penh and Mr Abhisit - have conducted espionage inside Cambodia. Mr Abhisit continues to fight for a fast trial or, better still, their release. The "patriots" of course give him neither credit nor thanks.

The third issue is a recently erected and ostentatious stone tablet near a disputed area along the Thai-Cambodian border. The Khmer inscription says, "Thai troops - the invaders" and goes on for five offensive and super-nationalistic lines. It is a disgraceful display of bad neighbourliness from the Hun Sen government and army. By now, thanks to media attention, Hun Sen, his government and his military know how objectionable it is. If it is not removed forthwith, Mr Abhisit's government must take a strong stand.

In the waning days of the Cold War, US president Ronald Reagan travelled to Germany. In a major speech to tens of thousands, he directly challenged the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan pointed dramatically at the split between East and West Berlin and demanded, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall." The Soviet leader refused, but within a few years a popular uprising in communist Europe tore down the wall and reunited Berlin and Germany.

Mr Abhisit could use a similar moment. He has continually been on the defensive over Cambodia. This situation is doubly frustrating because he is correct and his strident critics are wrong. Like his recent predecessors, Mr Abhisit's Cambodia policy has been both right and righteous. Political and legal experts alike have confirmed this. The Thai critics on the right have merely emboldened and even enabled their counterparts in Cambodia - who are just as disagreeable and equally wrong-headed.

The border tablet branding the Thai army as invaders is as obnoxious as it is unnecessary. By any measure, no Thai troops have "invaded" Cambodia since Hun Sen became prime minister. It is scandalous and shameful that he has allowed such a stone tablet to be installed in the first place - and worse that he has not already removed it. This is the time for Mr Abhisit to demand publicly that it be removed. Hun Sen's response will show how serious he is about good Thai-Cambodian relations.


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