September 23, 2011

Oil-claims talks ‘highly likely’


Thailand is reportedly preparing to re-enter negotiations with Cambodia on the Overlapping Claims Area after officials from the two countries talked this week at the ASEAN Energy Business Forum in Brunei.

Thai Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan said yesterday that he met informally with Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy secretary of state Ith Praing at the forum and both agreed “the development of the OCA is highly likely”.

However, he noted that previous agreements to share petroleum resources with neighbouring countries took more than a decade to materialise. Therefore no deadline had been set for the OCA’s development.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean we will drill for oil, as a lot preparation and negotiation are required,” Pichai Naripthaphan said in Brunei.

The OCA is believed to be rich in oil and gas. Both countries have laid claim to the area for decades, and negotiations have been unsuccessful throughout that time. A joint working group negotiated the issue between 2001 and 2007 after the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding in regards to the OCA in 2001.

Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government subsequently cancelled the MoU in November 2009, after Cambodia appointed fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser to the Kingdom.

Still, Thai and Cambodian officials held secret meetings regarding the oil claims during Abhisit Vejjajiva administration, the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority revealed late last month. Thai officials have since claimed Cambodia had initiated the talks, and that they were in fact not secret.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Cambodia last week to discuss with Prime Minister Hun Sen, among other things, the Overlapping Claims Area.

The two heads of state “agreed in principle to continue discussions in pursuit of the mutual interests of both countries,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday, adding that transparency in those discussions and an equitable solution was most important. Phay Siphan was, however, unaware of discussion between the energy officials on Wednesday.

This week’s meeting in Brunei was far from the necessary formal negotiations that must take place before real progress can be made on the dispute, said Michael McWalter, an oil and gas expert at the Asian Development Bank, yesterday.

“It’s probably pretty normal for ministers to talk like this,” McWalter said. “It may have just been happenstance that they sat down together.”

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