I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians
(Charles de Gaulle)
Published on 25 April 2011
Fighting near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples has killed at least 11 soldiers and wounded scores more
Thai and Cambodian troops are locked in the bloodiest border standoff in nearly two decades, with international calls for an immediate ceasefire and a lasting peace deal falling on deaf ears.
Fighting near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples has killed at least 11 soldiers and wounded scores more and follows a four-day confrontation in February that also claimed 11 lives. The resurgence of hostilities has raised questions about what is really behind the conflict.
WHAT IS THE DISPUTE ABOUT?
Both countries say they are defending their sovereignty and accuse the other of invading each others' land. Much of their 800 kilometres (500 miles) of border has never been properly demarcated and maps drawn up by Cambodia's former colonial masters, France, and agreed a century ago are still in dispute.
Cambodian soldiers gesture as they ride a truck near the Cambodia-Thai border April 25, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer
A Joint Boundary Commission has compiled studies over the past 10 years but nothing has been agreed. The main bone of contention are three Hindu temples dating back to the 11th and 12th Centuries. Sovereignty over Preah Vihear, Tan Moan and Tan Krabey and the jungle of the Dangrek Mountains surrounding them has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.
Preah Vihear was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 international court ruling but the 4.6 km of scrub around it was never demarcated and Thailand has challenged Cambodia's listing of the ruins as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, saying jurisdiction of the land must first be agreed.
Thailand says the other two temples perched on an escarpment in landmine-infested terrain 150 km (93 miles) away from Preah Vihear are in its Surin province according to a 1947 map. Cambodia says they are its Odder Meanchey province.
Troops have jointly patrolled Tan Moan and Tan Krabey largely without incident or argument over the temples. But Cambodia launched a stinging verbal attack on Saturday, accusing Thailand of trying to "take control" of the ancient temples. Thailand said the same of Cambodia the following day.
IS SOVEREIGNTY REALLY AT THE HEART OF THE ISSUE?
Many analysts and plenty of Thais and Cambodians who live in harmony with their border neighbours believe the battles are being fuelled by political interests. However, which side is responsible for the repeated flare-ups remains a mystery and both sides typically blame each other.
Some believe Cambodia's government is trying to score points at home by flexing its military muscles against its historic rival to stoke nationalist fervour. By internationalizing the spat, Cambodia's long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has had some bitter rows with the current Thai government and has openly said he favours another administration, could embarrass his counterpart in Bangkok.
Others say Thailand's government could be using the same playbook with a show of military might to win public support ahead of elections expected by late June or early July. Conflict also helps Thailand's military maintain a sizable behind-the-scenes political stake in the higher echelons of power.
Another theory is that powerful Thai generals allied with a Thai nationalists movement backed by some prominent conservative elites are trying to derail those elections. Thai nationalists have recently called for army intervention or an appointed, royal-endorsed government as a means to cool Thailand's intractable five-year political crisis
HOW HAS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY RESPONDED?
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for maximum restraint, "serious dialogue" and an "effective and verifiable" solution to a conflict that he in February urged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help settle.
ASEAN, under Indonesia's presidency, tried its best, but seems so far to have failed. It managed to get both sides to agree to allow unarmed military observers into the area, but Thailand's government and military have since backtracked on that and wants the problem settled bilaterally.
Marty Natalegawa, foreign minister of Indonesia, was scheduled to meet with the Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers on Monday, but the meetings were cancelled. No reason was given.
Both sides have in the past refused to accept the others' terms for holding talks. Cambodia insists neutral observers are the only way to make the peace hold.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR TRADE, ASEAN?
The spat could dent ASEAN's credibility as it seeks to boost its connectivity and economic integration and form a European Union-style community by 2015. If the 10-member bloc's offers of help are rebuffed and its calls for calm ignored, its progress as a grouping could be hampered.
Economic damage is likely to be minimal. Unlike in the past, the two countries don't depend much on each other for trade. Thai investment in Cambodia shrivelled 98 percent to just over $2 million in 2010, when Cambodia received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investment from China and South Korea. (Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)