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Thailand Uses Cluster Munitions Against Cambodia

A deminer from the Cambodian Mine Action Center looks over a pile of derelict artillery shells and hand grenades at a scrap yard in Poipet, northwest Cambodia. After decades of war, Cambodia is awash in live bombs, (File)

A group that campaigns against the use of cluster munitions says Thailand used the outlawed weapons against Cambodia during border clashes in February this year.

The Cluster Munition Coalition, or CMC, says it carried out two inspections of areas in northern Cambodia that were shelled by Thailand during several days of fighting in February and concluded that Thailand did fire cluster munitions.

CMC director Laura Cheeseman says Thailand’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva admitted in a meeting this week that his country used the weapons.

The Thai ambassador claimed his country acted in self defense and in accordance with military codes.

Cluster munitions are small bombs that are typically packed 50 to 60 at a time into an artillery shell. On impact the munitions scatter widely and are meant to explode. But they have a high failure rate, which means many remain armed and lethal, and end up killing civilians often years later.

The CMC says this is the first use of the weapons since the global Convention on Cluster Munitions took effect in 2010. The treaty, signed by 108 countries and ratified by about half of them, bans countries from producing, stockpiling and using cluster munitions. Thailand was not one of the signers, while Cambodia has signed but not yet ratified it.

Heng Ratana is the director-general of Cambodian Mine Action Center, the government agency that is tasked with ridding Cambodia of landmines and bombs. He says when news of cluster munitions first arose in February, CMAC was concerned the issue would be highly politicized.

"But from the CMAC point of view it is a humanitarian issue, because we identify cluster on the ground and we were so worried about 4 to 5,000 families will return to their community and will be affected by cluster munitions on the ground," Ratana explains.

Ratana says CMAC has already taken steps to inform people in the shelled area about the dangers of cluster munitions.

"We already provide some cluster awareness to at least around 4,000 families who are affected by this cluster already. And we also provide posters on the trees and so on, or on the walls of schools to provide that kind of awareness in place as well. So we hope that this will provide good safety for them," Ratana said.

Meanwhile, the Cluster Munition Coalition says both Thailand and Cambodia should immediately agree that neither will use the banned weapons, and that both will sign the treaty.