The latest statement from Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in relation to posting Indonesian observers at the disputed area near Preah Vihear Temple clearly reflects that it is the military, not the government, that controls Thailand's foreign policy toward Cambodia.
On his weekly talk show, Abhisit said his government had taken the same stance as the military - to not allow Indonesian observers to be |stationed on the 4.6 square kilometres area near the temple, which Thailand believes comes under its |sovereignty.
Nobody should have a problem if the area in question really belongs to Thailand. If the area is truly under Thai sovereignty, then it has the right to decide who does or does not enter it. In reality though, this piece of land is being clamed by both Thailand and Cambodia, and it sits at the core of the conflict |between both neighbours.
The Thai military just raised the issue as a tactic to defer the observation. If the observers are kept out of the disputed area, they will have no knowledge of what really happens. This would make the Indonesia-proposed peace plan meaningless and allow the military to scrap it.
The government was wrong in believing that it has full mandate on the foreign policy involving Cambodia when it authorised the Foreign Ministry to make a deal with Indonesia and Cambodia in February, during which it was decided that observers would be stationed at Preah Vihear to monitor a permanent ceasefire.
Indonesia, as chair of Asean, has to lend a hand in resolving the conflict because Phnom Penh took the February border skirmish to the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council then asked Asean to implement a permanent ceasefire.
Initially, having unarmed Indonesian observers monitoring the border situation sounded fine. Many government officials even claimed that this was a diplomatic victory to prevent aggressive acts from the other side.
However, this sweet victory turned into a bitter pill a week later when the military disagreed with the idea of stationing observers, saying involving a third party was unnecessary.
Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who represents the military rather than the government, previously tried to use diplomatic means to defer the deal saying he needed to discuss the terms of reference (TOR) with his Cambodian counterpart in the General Border Commission (GBC). However, when Indonesia called a meeting of the GBC and the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) in Bogor last week, the Thai military, in a very undiplomatic response, simply refused to go.
The government pretended to honour the deal that it had already agreed upon and tried to explain that Thailand needed more time to study and negotiate the TOR, when in reality it already had more than a month to read and study the proposal.
Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya should have been the one taking care of negotiations with Indonesia and the TOR on observers. Dealing with other countries is his job, not that of the military. As the foreign minister of an elected government, Kasit has the authority to make deals with other countries and honour them.
The Army should only be consulted on technical matters, such as the terrain in the area and whether it is safe from landmines. If the case of foreign observers is a policy matter, then it's the government's call to make the decision.