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Cablegate: Preah Vihear: Less Tension; More Concern

VZCZCXRO6324
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0664 2211008
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 081008Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

S E C R E T PHNOM PENH 000664

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR D, P, EAP, IO
NSC FOR LIZ PHU AND CINDY CHANG

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/18/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PREF UNGA CB
SUBJECT: PREAH VIHEAR: LESS TENSION; MORE CONCERN

Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOSEPH A. MUSSOMELI, REASONS 1.4
(b) and (d).

1. (S) During a farewell lunch for the Ambassador with the
Prime Minister's son, Hun Manet, the latter raised concerns
about the ongoing Preah Vihear controversy. Manet, who was
graduated from West Point and who now is heading Cambodia's
counter-terrorism assault force, wondered whether Cambodia's
patience and low-key approach to Thailand's military
incursion into territory long occupied by Cambodia had not
been a mistake. Manet argued that it appears that while the
initial incursion onto Cambodian soil had not been authorized
by the Thai government, that government now saw potential
territorial gains from a more aggressive policy regarding
border issues. He gave his view that Cambodian patience and
its refusal to use force have been interpreted by Thailand as
weakness. Manet noted that the deployment of Thai troops
around Preah Vihear was recently followed by deployments of
more Thai forces in other disputed terrain near the Ta Mouen
temple, and that this may have been a direct result of
Cambodia not taking a tougher stance.

2. (S) Ambassador countered that there appears to be
progress in peacefully resolving this issue. The Thai
cabinet has approved withdrawal in principle of Thai forces
and another round of high-level talks are slated for August
18. Manet, repeating for emphasis the phrase "in principle,"
predicted that orchestrating the withdrawal of the Thai and
Cambodian forces would prove more difficult. The Thai, he
insisted, see no downside in resisting a peaceful solution
and they can use the tension with Cambodia to distract their
citizens from more pressing domestic concerns.

3. (S) Ambassador urged continued patience and greater
efforts at finding a diplomatic solution. The last thing
Cambodia needed was armed conflict with Thailand. Both
countries needed good relations with the other and if this
matter can be resolved bilaterally with ASEAN support, this
would be best for all. While agreeing, Manet pointed out
that Thailand was refusing any ASEAN assistance in resolving
the matter, and averred that the Thais now believe the UNSC
will not intervene. Ambassador, reiterating the Secretary's
point, noted that we continue to believe that taking this
issue to the UNSC is premature, but that we have not
dismissed the prospect of UNSC action if all other options
falter.

4. (S) Comment: Given the recent downplaying of the Preah
Vihear issue in the Cambodian press and the efforts of both
governments to agree -- even if only in principle -- to
withdraw military forces from the disputed territory, Manet's
comments were somewhat unexpected. It may well be that they
were precipitated simply by President Bush,s recent visit to
Thailand and Thai media reports suggesting that the USG is in
lockstep with the Thai view that this is merely a bilateral
issue undeserving of international attention. We corrected
the record, stressing that our continued support for ASEAN
participation in resolving the issue is at odds with the Thai
view. Moreover, while we continue to believe that this
matter is best resolved bilaterally or in an ASEAN context,
we have not dismissed the possibility of UNSC action if all
other diplomatic means to resolve the conflict fail. Hun
Manet, like many other Cambodian officials, believes firmly
that it was only the prospect of this issue being raised at
the UNSC that convinced Thailand to agree to bilateral talks
and they now fear that if the Thai are certain that no such
prospect is viable, then they will have no motivation to
follow through on a troop withdrawal. We are more sanguine
about prospects for a peaceful, face-saving solution and we
will continue to counsel patience and flexibility.
MUSSOMELI

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