Thai-Cambodian clashes go on but villagers return home

Death toll from nearly two weeks of violence has risen to 18

Published on 3 May 2011

Author(s): Reuters

Type:  News

A ceasefire agreed at the end of last week by regional army commanders was quickly breached and daily skirmishes have since been reported

Thailand Cambodian forces are exchanging intermittent fire on their disputed border and the death toll from nearly two weeks of violence has risen to 18 but villagers were trickling home on Tuesday as the intensity of the clashes eased.

The latest exchanges follow a four-day confrontation in February making this year's violence the bloodiest on the poorly demarcated border for years.

A ceasefire agreed at the end of last week by regional army commanders was quickly breached and daily skirmishes have since been reported, each side blaming the other for firing first.

Clashes with guns and grenades broke out on Monday night, Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said on Tuesday, adding that one Thai soldier was killed and three were wounded. There was no report of casualties in Cambodia.

"Even though clashes continued, it has become less intense and the use of heavy weapons has stopped. Army representatives on both sides will meet twice a day to reduce tension and restore goodwill on the ground," Sansern said.

Civilians on both sides started to return home over the weekend when the use of the long-range weapons stopped. At least 65,000 people had been evacuated from villages along the border since April 22 when the latest round of skirmishes began.

The ceasefire agreed last Thursday was supposed to end the fighting that has fanned nationalist passions in both countries, threatening to overshadow elections due in Thailand and reinforcing doubts about Southeast Asia's ambitions to form a European Union-style community by 2015.

But tension remains high, with troops stationed in close proximity around two ancient temples in the poorly demarcated Dongrak Mountain Range.

ELUSIVE PEACE

Adding to the combustible mix, Cambodia went back to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday to ask for clarification of its 1962 ruling to award a separate temple, the 11th century Preah Vihear, to Cambodia.

The Preah Vihear temple, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, is the focus of border hostility and is about 150 km (90 miles) to the east of the site of most of the latest clashes.

The original ruling over the 900-year-old ruins was never accepted by many Thais and there have been frequent clashes at the site since mid-2008, including during the past two weeks. The court never ruled on disputed land surrounding the temple.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his government would do everything in its power to protect "Thai sovereignty" to make sure Thailand was not at a disadvantage if the ICJ accepted Cambodia's request for it to interpret the ruling.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the situation at the border had improved but acknowledged long-lasting peace might prove elusive.

"We have to keep a watch on the situation because it's difficult. Negotiation for a permanent ceasefire is hard and we have to be careful," Suthep told Reuters.

Under the April 28 ceasefire, the two sides had agreed to keep troops in the area but hold regular meetings between field commanders, leaving territorial disputes to a joint demarcation commission.

The latest round of fighting has killed nine Cambodians and nine Thais.

Thailand insists the stone-walled ruins of the 12th century Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples lie in its Surin province, based on a 1947 map. Cambodia says they are in its Oddar Meanchey province. Sovereignty has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.

Some analysts are sceptical the conflict is really about sovereignty and say it appears politically driven on both sides. Some say generals in Thailand are colluding with nationalists to foment a crisis and force the cancellation of upcoming elections to preserve the royalist establishment's hold on power.

(Reporting by Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)

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