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Cablegate: Tensions Flare with Cambodia After Hun Sen Demands Thai Withdrawal From Disputed Border Area Near Preah Vihear

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #3082/01 2881141
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141141Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4666
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 6407
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 9092
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 5295
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 4957
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1099
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 2463
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2060
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 5388
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 003082

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS
NSC FOR PHU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/14/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV TH CB
SUBJECT: TENSIONS FLARE WITH CAMBODIA AFTER HUN SEN DEMANDS THAI WITHDRAWAL FROM DISPUTED BORDER AREA NEAR PREAH VIHEAR

REF: A. BANGKOK 3069
B. BANGKOK 3021
C. PHNOM PENH 814
D. BANGKOK 2854
E. BANGKOK 2487
F. BANGKOK 2464
G. STATE 86724
H. BANGKOK 2428
I. PHNOM PENH 679

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i. James F. Entwistle, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY AND COMMENT
-------------------

1. (C) Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia flared again October 13 after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said during the new Thai FM's visit to Phnom Penh that Thai troops would have to withdraw from a disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple because the area was a ""life and death battle zone."" The latest round of accusations occurred after Thailand sent a demining team into the disputed zone to remove mines that the Thai government believes were recently placed in the zone by Cambodia. By mid-day October 14, the situation appeared to have calmed after Cambodian commanders claimed publicly that Thai troops had withdrawn. The RTG quickly disputed the claim privately but appeared willing to accept the resulting ease in tensions by not commenting publicly to the contrary.

2. (C) Comment: While we of course have no independent account of what transpired with Hun Sen during the October 13 meeting, the Thai Foreign Minister and Permanent Secretary came away from the visit to Phnom Penh alarmed. Hun Sen's comments to the press after his meeting with Sompong only increased Thai anxiety. We are pleased that the immediate tensions appeared to have eased by day's end October 14 and will continue to urge resolution of the dispute through peaceful, bilateral means. Moreover, we see nothing to give credence to the MFA Permanent Secretary's assertions that Vietnam is prepared to enter the fray militarily to support Cambodia. In sum, the Thai Foreign Ministry seems more worked up about this latest development in the Thai-Cambodia border dispute than the Thai military. End Summary and Comment.

HUN SEN DEMANDS THAI WITHDRAWAL
-------------------------------

3. (C) Thai MFA Permanent Secretary Virasakdi Futrakul told the Ambassador October 13 that the border dispute with Cambodia had become serious. Virasakdi's comments came after he had attended a meeting the same day in Phnom Penh between Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat and Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen. Virasakdi said that Hun Sen had given an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of a Thai 20-person demining unit and a related 40-person security force from the disputed zone adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple by 1500 on October 14. According to media reports, Hun Sen said publicly after meeting Sompong that Thai troops must withdraw from the disputed area because the area was a "life and death battle zone."

4. (C) FM Sompong told the Charge October 14 that Hun Sen had been blunt and taken a threatening approach during the October 13 meeting. Sompong said the RTG remained committed to resolving the conflict peacefully via already in place mechanisms despite the confrontational approach taken by the Cambodian Prime Minister. Hun Sen had opened the meeting by telling Sompong that "You are not going to like what I am going to tell you," and then gave the ultimatum, Virasakdi told the Charge. (The Thai official who took notes in the meeting later told the Charge that Hun Sen was polite ("he said please") in his request in the meeting that Thai troops be withdrawn and only "got angry" in his comments to the press. The same Thai official said Sompong's earlier meeting with Cambodian FM Hor Namhong was "very cordial.")

5. (C) The Charge told Sompong that U.S. diplomats in Phnom Penh would be counseling caution and restraint (as we also did in Bangkok.) Sompong expressed his thanks.

6. (C) Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak, Director of the Foreign Liaison Division at the Royal Thai Army (RTA) Headquarters, told us that RTA had intelligence that Cambodia had deployed an additional company (approximately 50 to 100 troops) to the area near the disputed territory after Hun Sen's remarks. Werachon disputed other reports that indicated that the Cambodia had moved tanks and other heavy equipment in the area around Preah Vihear.

THAI MILITARY REMOVING ALLEGED CAMBODIAN MINES
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (C) Lieutenant General Surapong Suwana-adth, Director of Joint Intelligence at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters (RTARF), told us October 14 that the Thai military had October 13 sent a demining team into the 4.6 square kilometer disputed territory in the vicinity of Preah Vihear temple in order to remove mines that Thailand believed were recently placed by Cambodian troops in the disputed region. In the conversation early October 14, LTG Surapong said the demining team would finish activities by mid-day October 14 and then withdraw from the area. This would then put the number of troops in the disputed region back to the bilaterally agreed number of less than 100 on each side.

8. (C) Thailand sent in the demining team following October 6 landmine explosions in the disputed territory that caused two Thai paramilitary rangers to lose their legs (Ref A). The mines reportedly were located approximately 1.5 kilometers west of the Preah Vihear Temple complex. Virasakdi told the Charge that the RTG had evidence that the mines were recently placed by Cambodian forces. Among evidence in Thai possession were radio intercepts ordering Cambodian troops to plant the mines, Virasakdi claimed. Virasakdi said the RTG had planned to take demining NGOs to the disputed area October 14 to reveal the recent mine laying activities by the Cambodians, but the visit had been canceled after Hun Sen's remarks. The RTG was now trying to gather evidence to make an indisputable claim that the mines had been recently placed in the disputed area by the Cambodians and, in addition to ""taking it to Geneva"" might also go public if Thai experts determined the evidence was incontrovertible.

TENSIONS APPEAR TO EASE
-----------------------

9. (C) Media reports October 14 said that Thai troops had withdrawn from the disputed border area by mid-day. Cambodian officials reportedly said 80 Thai troops had withdrawn from the area after talks between local commanders from the two sides. Cambodian Brigadier General Yim Pim was quoted by AFP to say that Thai troops had withdrawn from the area and that there was no longer any confrontation. Thai government officials quickly denied the reports both publicly and privately. Foreign Minister Sompong reportedly told the media that Thai troops would remain in the disputed area because Thailand had overseen that area for twenty to thirty years. Colonel Saranyu Viriyavejakul, Aide de Camp to RTA Commander General Anupong Paochinda, told us October 14 that Thai troops had not withdrawn. According to Saranyu, the RTA viewed the report as a Cambodian attempt to ease the current tensions. Cambodia did not want to enter into a conflict with the Thai military, as it would be at a distinct disadvantage, Saranyu told us.

10. (C) LTG Surapong told us late October 14 after he had attended a meeting between Prime Minister and Defense Minister Somchai, the RTARF Supreme Commander, and the service commanders, that Thai government had resolved to keep the additional demining team and its security force in the disputed region after Hun Sen's ultimatum. Earlier in the day, the plan had been to remove the demining team, but the RTG could not be seen as agreeing to Hun Sen's demands; to withdraw the troops would be seen as confirmation that Thailand had been at fault in deploying the team to the area in question. Surapong believed that Hun Sen did not carry through on his threats because an October 14 normal repositioning of Thai troops within the disputed area had been erroneously reported in the international press as a withdrawal. LTG Surapong said he thought calmer heads would prevail and that Cambodia would not attack Thai troops.

11. (U) The Thai MFA October 14 posted a statement on its website in response to Hun Sen's comments. The statement said that Thailand was surprised by the Cambodian Prime Minister's remarks but that Thailand continued to try to resolve the conflict peacefully through bilateral negotiations. The statement said that the militaries of two sides had agreed to convene a special meeting of the Regional Border Committee (RBC) on October 21. The RBC meeting would be preceded by a October 15 working level meeting.

THAIS CLAIM POSSIBLE VIETNAMESE INVOLVEMENT
-------------------------------------------

12 (C) Virasakdi told the Ambassador October 13 that the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh had received reports that Vietnamese troops had begun to move into Cambodia in order to support Cambodian efforts in the disputed area. The RTG was also attempting to verify a report that Cambodia had recently obtained nineteen fighter jets that were based at a Vietnamese airbase and would be flown by Vietnamese pilots in support of Cambodia in case of war with Thailand.

13. (C) Thai military contacts, however, have downplayed reports of Vietnamese involvement. LTG Surapong did not express the same sense of urgency as Virasakdi. Colonel Saranyu told us that he had read a report that 3,000 Vietnamese troops were supporting or even possibly would fight alongside Cambodian troops but that he doubted the source of the report. Saranyu believed that the Cambodian government may have planted the report in order to create the impression that the Cambodia had regional backing in the border conflict. The Thai military had good relations with the Vietnamese and did not foresee outside involvement in the conflict, Saranyu said. Colonel Werachon also told us he doubted the report of Vietnamese support for the Cambodians. General Anupong had recently visited Hanoi and had been assured by the Vietnamese military that they considered the border conflict a bilateral issue, Werachon said.

Manila Treaty and Rusk-Thanat Statement
---------------------------------------

14. (C) Virasakdi told the Ambassador that Thailand may be required to invoke the 1954 Manila (SEATO) Treaty and the Rusk-Thanat Communique if Vietnam were to be involved in a conflict between Cambodia and Thailand. (Note: While we are obviously nowhere near invoking the various agreements with the RTG the details follow: The Understanding of the U.S., added after Article XI of the Manila Treaty, reads: ""The United States of America in executing the present Treaty does so with the understanding that its recognition of the effect of aggression and armed attack and its agreement with reference thereto in Article IV, paragraph 1, apply only to communist aggression but affirms that in the event of other aggression or armed attack it will consult under the provisions of Article IV, paragraph 2."" The Rusk-Thanat Communique of 1962, which clarified U.S. commitment to Thailand, states that the U.S. would assist Thailand ""in case of Communist armed attack against that country."" (para 3). End Note.)

ENTWISTLE

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