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Govt urges opposition not to use temple verdict for political gain

Nov 09. 2013
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By Supalak Ganjanakhundee,

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul urged Opposition Democrats and protesters, staging a rally against the government over its blanket amnesty bill, not to use tomorrow's Preah Vihear Temple verdict to fuel political conflict within the country, or
Following the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s verdict tomorrow, agencies concerned would consider how to deal with the court’s judgement and look at ways to settle the dispute with Cambodia peacefully, he said.
“People should listen to the court’s judgement with calm and separate this issue from the ongoing internal political conflict,” Surapong told reporters upon arrival in The Hague yesterday.
Surapong said his government had handled the case in line with the previous government’s approach and would cooperate closely with Cambodia to tackle the problem peacefully.
“People along the border with Cambodia should not panic, either. There will be no military clash in the border area near Preah Vihear Temple as ground commanders of the two countries will meet to coordinate and maintain peace on both sides of the border,” he said.
In addition to meeting with Hor Namhong, his Cambodian counterpart, Surapong said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had also been in close contact and had agreed that the court verdict would not jeopardise the good relations of the two countries. 
The court ruled in 1962 that the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear is located on territory that is under the sovereignty of Cambodia. Thailand complied with the ruling but argued that the area adjacent to the temple belongs to Thailand.
Following military skirmishes along the Thai-Cambodian border, Cambodia asked the court in 2011 to interpret the previous judgement and to make clear the vicinity of the temple. However, the border dispute became the centre of a political dispute as opposition and conservative groups accused the government under the Thaksin Shinawatra camp of making a deal with Phnom Penh over the temple, for personal interests.
Surapong said the Foreign Ministry had anticipated that the verdict could take a number of forms: The ICJ could either reject Cambodia’s request for an interpretation, or it could rule in favour of Thailand or Cambodia. “Whatever it is, we have already prepared to deal with the outcome,” he said.
Asked what the government’s response would be if the verdict went against Thailand, Surapong said the government would look to public opinion and bring the issue before Parliament.
“I have talked to Cambodia’s foreign minister Hor Namhong and we have agreed that both countries would respond to the court’s judgement in line with our own domestic laws – and we will respect the stance each of our country’s take,” he said.
Surapong also assured the public that the government will consult with Parliament on how to proceed, if the ICJ fails to rule in Thailand’s favour on the bitter border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear Temple. The ICJ is expected to hand down its verdict tomorrow. 
“We will listen to people’s opinions and will also consult Parliament so that we can make a decision together,” Surapong announced via Yingluck’s “Government Meets the People” programme, broadcast yesterday. 
Surapong, also a deputy prime minister, flew out of Thailand late Friday night for The Hague. Before leaving, he urged Thais not to politicise the Preah Vihear issue. 
“Please don’t use it to fuel anti-government sentiment,” he said.
Large numbers of people have taken to the streets this week to rally against the government’s blanket amnesty bill. Surapong also insisted that the government had already backtracked from supporting the highly-controversial bill.
He hoped that when the ICJ announced its verdict tomorrow, Thais would not stage rallies that would lead to skirmishes and loss of life in border areas close to the temple. 
Tomorrow’s ruling will be broadcast live on Thai national television and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is scheduled to address the nation shortly afterwards, according to government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi.
“Please think about the people who live in the border areas too,” said Surapong. 
He added that the government had fought in the national interest of the country over the case and denied rumours that the administration’s close ties with Cambodia were paving for way for their collusion on the issue. 
Surapong blamed the previous Democrat government for Cambodia’s decision to revive the Preah Vihear issue at the ICJ. 
“We have to go to the ICJ now because the Abhisit Vejjajiva government had a number of disagreements with Cambodia,” the foreign minister said. He also attacked the Surayud Chulanont administration, which came to power following the 2006 military coup. 
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut dismissed Surapong’s allegations, saying that the Democrat Party had done its best to protect the country’s national interests.  
“The Democrat-led government fiercely protected Thailand’s territory,” he said. 

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