Thai Minister Says Patience Necessary on Gulf Solution

siem reap town – Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan indicated Tuesday that it will take years to find a solution to overlapping claims to sea rights potentially worth millions of dollars.

Speaking to several reporters in the lobby of the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Pitsuwan pointed out Thailand and Malaysia spent years haggling over national sea boundaries.

“It took 20 years to define the Gulf of Thailand with Malaysia,” said the minister, who earlier in the day talked about the sea claims issue with Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong. “It won’t take that long—but certainly more discussion is needed.”

A senior Cambodian petroleum official expressed hope last week that progress could be made quickly on the 29-year-old dispute, noting that the cash-strapped government needs to aggressively seek ways to generate funds.

The government has already inked deals with several international oil companies who want to survey the waters, but the rights hinge on an agreement first being ironed out between Cam­bodia and Thailand.

Immediately adjacent to the contested area—which is off the coast of Koh Kong province—are Thai waters that have yielded tens of millions of dollars worth of natural gas for Bangkok.

A Thai diplomat traveling with Pitsuwan said “it would take a long time” for Phnom Penh and Bangkok to reach a settlement. “This is not a simple matter,” he said, asking not to be named.

He said it remained unclear if the disputed territory would be surveyed before agreement on the sea border was reached, or if a survey would be jointly conducted as talks continued.

The neighbors also have outstanding disputed land border issues, which will be addressed later this year at a meeting in Cambodia, said the Thai diplomat.

Pitsuwan is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen today in Phnom Penh.

An agreement that would bring electricity from Thailand to at least four areas of Cambodia in the northwest is also slated to be signed today.

 

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