Southeast Asian leaders met yesterday for the final day of an annual summit that has been hijacked by a bitter feud between Thailand and Cambodia over a tiny patch of disputed borderland.
ASEAN leaders expressed frustration that the dispute had not been resolved and the 10 nation group’s strategic message of regional economic integration was being lost.
In an effort to bring the warring neighbors together, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hosted an unscheduled meeting with the Thai and Cambodian leaders yesterday morning.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sat down with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva a day after the former had set the tone of the summit by launching a surprise verbal attack on Abhisit during the opening session.
Hun Sen said after yesterday’s meeting that the row was “spoiling” the summit, which was -supposed to focus on long-term plans to create a harmonized economic community by 2015.
“Everyone knows that the problem of the Thai-Cambodia border has been spoiling the atmosphere and also creates a challenge for ASEAN,” he told a press conference.
In a highly critical tone not usually heard at ASEAN meetings, the Cambodian leader on Saturday accused Thailand of invading its neighbor and seeking to prolong the conflict “in order to violate weaker neighboring ASEAN members.”
“The invasion of the Thai troops of Cambodia’s territory resulted in a series of clashes and eventually a large-scale war from Feb. 4 to Feb. 7, 2011,” Hun Sen told the assembled leaders.
Eighteen people have been killed and 85,000 temporarily displaced in weeks of clashes over ownership of a small patch of territory surrounding an 11th-century Khmer temple. The temple itself belongs to Cambodia.
Indonesia has been trying to mediate a solution to the conflict on behalf of ASEAN, but so far it has achieved little except an in--principle agreement from both sides to accept a small team of military observers visiting the border area.
Abhisit responded to Hun Sen’s criticism by saying he was ready for dialogue and insisting the matter be resolved bilaterally, instead of under UN auspices as Cambodia wants.
“Thailand has no intention whatsoever to have conflicts. I am therefore disappointed that Prime Minister Hun Sen has stated otherwise regarding Thailand’s intentions,” he told the leaders.
He agreed that the dispute, which was not on the formal agenda of the summit, threatened to undermine the credibility of the bloc’s rhetoric about regional integration and playing a greater role in world affairs.
“I accept that the issue could affect the credibility of ASEAN. We must therefore make sure that any problem should be solved, locally, bilaterally and if needed with the facilitation of the region,” Abhisit said. “Thailand recognizes full well that any conflict between ASEAN member states can undermine ASEAN’s community-building efforts.”
Officials said the two leaders had agreed to have their foreign ministers meet again in Jakarta to discuss the conflict further.
Putting a brave face on the episode, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said: “The fact that they are meeting is a good sign.”
However, other ASEAN leaders were not so sanguine.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino, speaking to reporters late on Saturday, said ASEAN unity was at stake and expressed concern that the conflict could worsen.
“How can we have one ASEAN, one family, if we have two major components who cannot solve their problems?” he asked.
“It is important that ASEAN is united so that when we talk with other groups we tell them you talk to us as one whole unit. If we are disunited they can easily push us around ... so it is in the interest of ASEAN that Thailand and -Cambodia should resolve the issue,” he added.
Aquino said he had asked Hun Sen whether there was anything the Philippines could do to help, but the Cambodian leader “just smiled” in response.
In addition to strategic integration, other issues on the table at the summit include food and energy security, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the scourge of human trafficking and East Timor’s membership bid.
Myanmar stole the headlines on Friday when ASEAN officials announced that the military-led country — which is under Western sanctions for serial human rights abuses — had asked to chair the group in 2014.
US-based Human Rights Watch said ASEAN, already struggling for credibility, would become the “laughing stock of intergovernmental forums” if it granted the request.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable