World Citizens call for a Thai-Cambodian Peace Zone: From Periodic Flair-ups to Permanent Cooperation
In a 23 April Appeal to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Rene Wadlow, Senior Vice-President and Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens called for renewed efforts to promote a zone of peace along the Thai-Cambodian frontier where fighting had broken out on Good Friday, 22 April, and was continuing on Saturday the 23rd. “Quick UN action is required to halt these periodic flair-ups and to create a zone of peace that would facilitate permanent cooperation” said the World Citizen Appeal.
The early morning Good Friday fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops took place near the ancient temples of Ta Krabey and Ta Moan Thom some 150 kilometres southwest of the better-known 900 year old Preah Vihear Temple where fighting had broken out in February. There have been repeated clashes around the Preah Vibear Temple, especially after 2008 when UNESCO enshrined Preah Vibear as a World Heritage site for Cambodia over Thai objections. The World Court had in 1962 decided that Preah Vibear was on the Cambodian side of the frontier. However the only roads for easy access to the temple are from Thailand.
The World Citizen proposal for a Thai-Cambodian peace zone is based on a “peace park-condominium zone of peace” between Ecuador and Peru proposed by Professor Johan Galtung at a time of growing military confrontations between the two South American countries and published in his collection of peace proposals: Johan Galtung 50 Years (Transcend University Press, 2008, 263pp.)
The troops of the two countries would disengage and withdraw, and procedures would be established for joint security, patrolling, and early warning of military movements. A code of conduct would be drawn up. Thus the two countries with a history of hostility could use conflict creatively to grow together at the disputed point and at the speed national sentiments would tolerate and demand. Such a zone of peace would be important both for conflict resolution and for protection of the ecology.
The fighting in February had been brought for mediation to a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia which currently holds the rotating chairmanship agreed to send military observers to the frontier area. However, they have not yet been sent, and Thai officials considered them unnecessary.
However, the new round of fighting and the evacuation of the population of villages near the frontier indicate that the situation remains volatile. Joint cooperation between the United Nations and ASEAN would be important to create a stable form of third-party mediation. As Rene Wadlow pointed out in the World Citizen Appeal “Buddhist groups in both Thailand and Cambodia have been working for reconciliation based on the common value of compassion. There is a growing role for citizen diplomacy and mediation efforts. The Thai-Cambodian conflict is one in which such citizen diplomacy can play an important role, especially in building up the institutions of a zone of peace with joint centers for Buddhist study and practice as well as increased protection of the fragile environment. However, in light of the increased dangers of renewed fighting, swift action by governments is needed. The UN Security Council is best structured for deciding on the swift action needed”.
* Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens