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Cablegate: Preah Vihear: Tension Unlikely to Dissipate

VZCZCXRO0937
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0581/01 2001355
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 181355Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUEKDIA/DIA WASH DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0086
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUHUTRA/CDR 19AS TRAVIS AFB CA IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HI IMMEDIATE
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0619
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000581

SIPDIS

PARIS PLEASE PASS US MISSION TO UNESCO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/18/2010
TAGS: PREL PGOV UNESCO SCUL MOPS PBTS TH CB
SUBJECT: PREAH VIHEAR: TENSION UNLIKELY TO DISSIPATE
WITHOUT CHANGE IN BILATERAL DYNAMIC

REF: A. BANGKOK 2207
B. PHNOM PENH 578
C. BANGKOK 2167

Classified By: Ambassador Joseph A. Mussomeli, for reasons 1.4 (b) and
(d)

See para two for action request.

1. (C) Summary: Reftel A provides a solid update on the
evolving situation along the Thai-Cambodian border near Preah
Vihear temple. Embassies Phnom Penh and Bangkok had a number
of good exchanges during the course of the day to
double-track information coming from Thai and Cambodian
sources. Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An called
Ambassador late this afternoon to convey continued Cambodian
concerns that tensions in the area are high, with what the
Cambodians describe as a significant number of Thai troops
having moved into Cambodian-built structures in an area
awarded to Cambodia by a 1962 International Court of Justice
decision. During Sok An's conversation with the Ambassador,
the DPM took a call conveying information apparently passed
to Prime Minister Hun Sen from Prime Minister Samak. Sok An
said that Samak had been counseled by Thai military described
as being closer to the government that other Thai military
would follow orders if instructed to withdraw from the newly
occupied areas -- but would then use this as a pretext to
topple the government. Sok An said that the Cambodian
government (RGC) would continue its policy of patience and
peaceful, bilateral efforts to resolve the situation.
However, he expressed two concerns: (1) that the number of
Thai and Cambodian soldiers crowded into a small area
presented a volatile situation which could not continue
indefinitely without sparking, and (2) that the Thai
government's hands may be tied in dealing with its strong and
relatively independent military. Sok An was dubious that the
planned extraordinary meeting of the General Border Committee
July 21 would yield results. He noted that if these quiet,
bilateral efforts did not work, Cambodia contemplated taking
the issue to ASEAN, UNESCO and the UN Security Council -- to
pressure Thailand to withdraw its troops from Cambodian
territory and arrange some sort of international observation
in the border area. End Summary

2. (C) Comment and Action Request: Embassy Phnom Penh agrees
with Embassy Bangkok's assessment of the extraordinary
politicization of issues surrounding Cambodia's decision to
inscribe Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site and the
linked question of what the Thai describe as a nearby
overlapping claim. This assertion of an overlapping claim,
however, is irrelevant legally or morally. Cambodia has had
control of the territory in question for 46 years.
Historically, most border disputes that result in armed
conflict begin with an assertion of overlapping claims. We
believe that the U.S.'s overarching interest in maintaining
regional stability does not allow us the luxury of
indefinitely standing on the sidelines of this dispute. We
see the options as follows: (a) pursue balanced, quiet
diplomacy now to encourage both parties to defuse tensions
and work in a spirit of goodwill using solid existing
mechanisms including the upcoming GBC, (b) react when, almost
inevitably, tensions spark a incident, (c) accept that both
the Cambodians, who see international law as solidly on their
side, and the Thai military will perceive U.S. silence as
tacit approval, or (d) develop a position when the Cambodians
bring this into regional and multilateral fora. We believe
the two sides are paralyzed at the moment and need help. We
should continue to frame this as a mil-mil issue and believe
that a call from a senior U.S. military official to his Thai
and Cambodian counterparts would help to get both sides to
prepare seriously for the July 21 Border Committee meeting.
We would advocate the following points, building on Embassy
Bangkok's suggestions but shifting from "if asked" to a more
proactive approach:

-- URGING THAT ALL PARTIES WORK IN A SPIRIT OF GOOD WILL AND
COOPERATION TO RESOLVE THEIR CONCERNS PEACEFULLY AND
DIPLOMATICALLY,

-- ENCOURAGING THEM TO CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE IN WHICH EXISTING
MECHANISMS (SUCH AS THE UPCOMING MEETING OF THE GENERAL

PHNOM PENH 00000581 002 OF 003


BORDER COMMITTEE) TO RESOLVE BORDER ISSUES CAN FUNCTION,

-- REDUCING THE NUMBER OF SOLDIERS DEPLOYED INTO THE AREA AND
PULLING BACK TO POSITIONS HELD BEFORE JULY 14

End comment and action request.

3. (C) Deputy Prime Minister Sok An met the Ambassador late
in the day July 18 to provide an update on Cambodian-Thai
discussions about Preah Vihear. Sok An reviewed developments
since July 15, shared with the Ambassador photographs of Thai
military in and around the Cambodian-built Keo Sikha Kiri
Svara pagoda and a Cambodian police outpost, reviewed the
maps and import of the 1962 ICJ decision which awarded the
Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia and instructed Thai troops to
withdraw from the area (which they did), and shared Cambodian
thoughts on next steps to defuse this issue. During the
course of the conversation, Sok An stressed the RGC's
sympathy for the difficult position of the Samak government
and recognition that Preah Vihear had become excessively
politicized in Thailand. He said PM Hun Sen had counseled
patience repeatedly when approached by senior Cambodian
military and police insulted by what he described as Thai
rangers' occupation of a Cambodian-built pagoda approximately
1/2 kilometer within Cambodian territory.

4. (SBU) Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong
convened Phnom Penh-based Ambassadors for a briefing on Preah
Vihear. He opened by noting the July 7 inscription of the
sacred site of Preah Vihear temple by the World Heritage
Committee; the Thai government (RTG) had first supported and
then later, because of domestic opposition, withdrawn their
support for inscription. There had then been "a political
storm" in Thailand, stirred up by known figures. Cambodia
had never thought, however, that Thai soldiers would decide
to take possession of a pagoda within 300 meters of the
temple. Hor Namhong displayed copies of the French-Siam map
from the early 1900s, noting this map had been used in the
1962 International Court of Justice decision awarding Preah
Vihear temple to Cambodia. He asserted the pagoda in
question is clearly in Cambodian territory as per that map.
Hor Namhong also referred to Thailand's "unilateral"
development of a competing map and assertion that there is a
4.6 km square overlapping claim area.

5. (SBU) Hor Namhong said Cambodia did not know who was
behind the military decision to move troops into this area.
He did not/not think the Thai government was behind the
decision. However, the situation was tense with more than
1,000 Thai and Cambodian troops in the area. Cambodia
further understood that some 40-60 trucks had brought in Thai
protesters who were gathered in Thai territory with the
intent of protesting at the temple. In the face of this
provocative situation, Cambodia had maintained its self
restrain. PM Hun Sen,s phone call and letter to PM Samak
were efforts to solve the problem peacefully. Cambodia
wanted to solve the problem peacefully and bilaterally,
without foreign or international intervention. If they
cannot solve the problem peacefully and the Thai choose to
use force, Cambodia reserved the right to use force. First,
however, Cambodia envisions solving this politically and
diplomatically possibly be referring the matter to the UN
Security Council.

6. (SBU) On July 21, there will be a meeting of the General
Border Commission (GBC). Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh
will attend. Answering a question, Hor Namhong noted that PM
Samak is dual-hatted as Defense Minister, but was unlikely to
attend, probably instead sending Supreme Commander Boonsrang
Niumpradit. Responding to a German question about whether
ASEAN could play a mediating role, the FM noted that he would
be unable to attend the ASEAN FM's meeting, because of the
upcoming elections, and is sending MFA Secretary of State Kao
Kim Horn. Kao Kim Horn is instructed to inform ASEAN Foreign
Ministers about the situation. the FM concluded the meeting
saying that if the situation worsens, Cambodia may ask the
assembled Ambassadors if their countries could contribute to
helping solve the problem.

7. (SBU) Comment: Although well-spoken, intelligent and known
in ASEAN circles, we do not see Kao Kim Horn as somebody who

PHNOM PENH 00000581 003 OF 003


will be able to engage with ASEAN Foreign Ministers or use
the Singapore meeting to problem-solve. While the FM did
not/not seem eager to seek ASEAN mediation, it was clear
there were Ambassadors (in addition to Germany, Singapore,
Brunei and Malaysia were talking about this question) who
believe this issue is bound to come up during the ARF. We
learned earlier that the Cambodians have been in contact with
Vietnam, seeking what was described as "Vietnamese support"
-- we now suspect that may have been in the context of the
Vietnamese' position on the Security Council. Local papers
-- which are portraying tensions as having abated somewhat --
also describe Thai and Cambodian military units as
"face-to-face and side-by-side" in the small area. One
English language report describes one narrow alleyway of the
100 meter stretch leading up to the pagoda as "young and old
Thai and Cambodian troops standing and sitting cheek by jowl
and with a horrifying range of weaponry." From this
Embassy's perspective, this face-off generates a level of
tension which is likely to lead to an incident or accident
and should not be left to fester.

8. (SBU) Although tourists could in theory access Preah
Vihear temple in Cambodian territoy without passing through
the area of tension or nearing the Thai border checkpoint,
Post's EAC decided this morning also to issue a warden
message counseling American citizens to avoid the area until
tensions subside.
MUSSOMELI

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