Thailand, Cambodia trade blame over border battles

Alas a continueing story

Published on 4 May 2011

Author(s): Reuters/Martin Petty

Type:  News

Thailand says clashes are "masterfully orchestrated" and clashes are "masterfully orchestrated." Thai claims baseless, Cambodia says

Thailand and Cambodia traded barbs on Wednesday over which side started a bloody border dispute that is set to take centre stage at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Jakarta this weekend.

Fighting between the two armies appeared to have eased after 12 days of artillery and gunfire that have killed 18 people on both sides, but there was no let-up in the diplomatic battle ahead of a summit of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva accused Cambodia of repeated attacks on Thai troops aimed at internationalising a dispute over sovereignty and influencing foreign opinion in its favour.

"Each time we clashed, it's not an accident but an intentional attempt to push the conflict to the international stage," Abhisit told reporters.

"It matches with Cambodia's strategy that the timing of each attack is linked to their goal of using the international stage (to protect Cambodian interests). We will defend our rights."


His Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, said on Wednesday there was a need to build trust and agree to a ceasefire but appeared to ridicule Thai troops, which he said were "shooting because they are afraid of ghosts".

Exactly why the two countries are in conflict and which side fired first remain a mystery but many analysts say there are political forces on either side that stand to gain domestically if the crisis continues.

At the centre of the latest flare-up are two 12th-Century stone-walled Hindu temples, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, in a heavily mined jungle area that both sides claim.


DECADES-OLD ROW

The dispute over jurisdiction has been ongoing since the 1950s, when colonial power France pulled out of Cambodia. Another, more significant temple, Preah Vihear, was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice.

Thailand insists it accepts Cambodia's jurisdiction of the 11th Century temple but is challenging its listing of the ruins as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its management plans, because the ICJ did not rule on the 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq miles) of land around it.

Late last week, Cambodia asked the ICJ to settle the Preah Vihear issue by giving an explanation for a judgment it delivered half a century ago.

However, the request sent by Cambodia, written in French and posted on the ICJ's website on Tuesday, could become a bone of contention.

Cambodia told the ICJ that Thailand had orchestrated "serious armed incidents" between April 22 and 26, but the letter, signed by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, was dated April 20.

It was not immediately clear if the date entered by Hor Namhong was a mistake.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong declined to comment specifically on the letter.

"The accusation by Thailand that Cambodia planned to start the fighting has no legal basis," he said.

A senior Thai Foreign Ministry official, who requested anonymity, said the letter proved the fighting had been "masterfully orchestrated" by Cambodia.

Both sides have called for calm and no meeting has yet been arranged between the two countries' leaders on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit starting on Saturday.

As chair of ASEAN, Indonesia intervened in February, at the request of the United Nations Security Council, when the conflict first flared from Feb 4-7, killing 11 troops.

Both sides agreed to allow 15 unarmed Indonesian military observers to be stationed on either side of the border to monitor the fragile peace agreement, but the plan has yet to be put in place.

Analysts say the breaching of the ceasefire on April 22 could weigh heavy on ASEAN's plans to form a regional community by 2015 and bloc Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan has urged an immediate ceasefire to prevent damage to its reputation. (Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja and Phnom Penh bureau; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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