News / Asia

Thailand, Cambodia Border Fight Moves to UN

A Cambodian soldier polishes his boots at the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 8, 2011
A Cambodian soldier polishes his boots at the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 8, 2011
Ron Corben

Thailand and Cambodia plan to present their positions next week to the United Nations Security Council over recent fighting on their border.

A ceasefire held Friday along the Cambodian-Thai border, though the armies of both governments remain on alert.

Latest fight

A week ago, fighting erupted near a 900-year-old Hindu Khmer temple on the border. Several died before fighting halted Tuesday, and thousands on both sides were forced to flee their homes.

On Monday, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Thailand’s Kasit Piromya appear before the United Nations Security Council to set out their respective positions. Each country blames the other for starting the battle.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the temple was in Cambodia, but a main access route is on the Thai side. The two sides have disputed the exact border in places around the temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand.

Possible rights violations

Sunai Pasuk, a representative for Human Rights Watch in Thailand, says the U.N. will provide a forum for debate over the clashes, and could help determine human rights violations.

"But the basis for conflict resolution is still within bilateral process," noted Sunai. "A presentation at the U.N. Security Council will be an opportunity to both Thailand and Cambodia to [outline] further allegations of human rights violations to international laws as the use of cluster ammunitions can only be resolved with independent observation of the affected area."

Both countries have accused the other of using banned cluster bombs in the fighting.

ASEAN presence at meeting

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natelegawa, whose country is currently chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also will attend the U.N. meeting. ASEAN officials have offered to mediate negotiations between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

In Thailand, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says the temple should be de-listed as a United Nations Scientific and Educations Organization World Heritage site.

Mr. Abhisit says doing so and scrapping a proposed Cambodian management plan would defuse the border conflict. However, Cambodia is expected to oppose the idea.

Interior pressure

The border dispute first flared up in 2008, after Cambodia received World Heritage status for Preah Vihear. Thai nationalists, many of whom say the temple belongs to Thailand, protested, and both governments reinforced troops along the border.

The Thai government is facing pressure from the nationalists, who demand that Bangkok revoke a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia on resolving border disputes. Nationalist groups want their government to push for Cambodians off disputed lands. The government has rejected these calls.

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