News / Asia

Thailand, Cambodia Step Up Diplomatic Efforts

A Cambodian soldier walks past armored vehicles during the National Assembly members' visit to troops in a military base near the Preah Vhear temple in Preah Vihear province, some 500 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2011
A Cambodian soldier walks past armored vehicles during the National Assembly members' visit to troops in a military base near the Preah Vhear temple in Preah Vihear province, some 500 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, February 9, 2011

Thailand and Cambodia are stepping up diplomatic efforts to prevent more fighting along their border. But the two countries accuse each other of using banned weapons in their battles in the past few days near a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

The two countries exchanged allegations Wednesday, over the use of internationally banned cluster bombs.

The internationally funded Cambodian Mine Action Center says it is investigating the reports of cluster bombs. Cambodia’s military says the artillery was from the Thai side of the border.

Hang Ratana, the CMAC secretary-general, says an investigation team has been sent to Sa'em commune, in Preah Vihear province. A team had been dispatched to brief civilians over the dangers of the bombs, which do not always explode on impact, and remain as land mines, posing a threat long after the conflict is over.

He says CMAC had found remnants of cluster bombs and saw that cluster munitions were spread in some areas. But the military situation has been tense and they will not be able investigate in many areas.

The Thai government denies using cluster bombs.

"The military confirmed to us that we don’t use this weapon. Number two they also discovered those weapons in the area and they concluded that the weapons and are from Cambodia. The cluster shells were discovered in the area shot by the Cambodian side," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, the government spokesman.

Cluster bombs and mines are particularly sensitive issues in Cambodia. Decades of war in the last century left parts of the country littered with such weapons and every year scores of people are injured by unexploded ordnance.

The latest fighting is the most severe since 2008, when tensions rose after the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple received World Heritage status under the United Nations Scientific and Educational Organization.

Fighting flared up last Friday, and has left at least 10 dead and scores wounded, including many civilians. Thousands of villagers on both sides of the border have fled their homes.

Cambodian and Thai troops remain on high alert, with villagers reporting a build up of security forces. But Wednesday there were no reports of new fighting.

The Preah Vihear temple remained close to the public Wednesday. Cambodian officials inspected the Hindu site, which appears to have sustained some damage during the fighting.

UNESCO officials have called for calm and say experts will be sent to assess damage to the temple. But Thailand opposes the UNESCO inspection.

The foreign ministers of both countries are due in New York next week to discuss the situation at the United Nations.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, but a major access route lies in about five square kilometers of land that is in Thailand. In June the U.N. Heritage Committee is to meet to decide on a management plan for the temple.

The border dispute has been exacerbated by Thai politics. In late December, Cambodian officials arrested seven Thais, including members of Parliament, who were charged with illegally crossing the border in another disputed area. Two received lengthy prison sentences for spying, but five have been freed.

Thai nationalists demand that their government oust Cambodians from disputed lands and invalidate a memorandum of understanding the two countries signed on resolving border disputes. The government rejects the demands.


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