By Supalak Ganjanaknundee
Published on February 7, 2011
Cambodia fires rockets, artillery; Thailand retaliates; over 10 Thai soldiers, civilians hurt; Local residents escape shells 'flying over our heads'; PM Abhisit: We won't withdraw troops from border
The border ceasefire collapsed yesterday evening when the Thai and Cambodian military launched a fierce artillery exchange around disputed border areas near Preah Vihear temple.
"Cambodia lit up fireworks at 6.40pm and then fired artillery and rockets into Thai side. We retaliated in the same proportion," Army spokesman Col Sansern Keowkam-nerd said.
Preah Vihear damaged?
This third round of border clashes has damaged the disputed 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple, Agence France-Presse quoted the Cambodian government as having said.
Thai residents in villages along the border rushed to seek shelter and fled into bunkers to avoid incoming shells.
"A lot of shells were flying over our heads in and out, but we don't know where they landed," a villager said in a phone call from a bunker in Si Sa Ket's Roung sub-district.
Cambodian troops reportedly launched artillery shells and rockets from positions at Phu Ma Khua hill and Chong Don Aou to many Thai villages on the border.
More than 10 soldiers and civilians were admitted to a hospital in Si Sa Ket's Kanthalalak district, officials said. There were no confirmed reports of deaths.
The current border clash broke out on Friday. Both sides reached a brief truce on Saturday afternoon.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday rejected a call for demilitarisation of disputed areas along the border. The government would not withdraw troops as Thailand needed to claim its right in the border, he said.
"I insist that a troop withdrawal as proposed by Cambodia could not be done since we have to maintain our right [over the area] although it is risky to have another clash," Abhisit told reporters.
Over the past two years, Cambodia has proposed withdrawing troops on both sides out of the disputed area adjacent to the disputed Hindu temple at Preah Vihear to avoid military clashes.
Professors, academics and intellectuals led by former rector of Thammasat University Charnvit Kasetsiri and Prof Emeritus of Anthropology and International Studies at the University of Washington Charles Keyes signed a petition to call both sides to withdraw troops from the area.
"We urge the mutual withdrawal of armed forces from disputed areas as quickly as possible, in order to diminish tension and confrontations between those responsible for both countries' border security," they said in a statement issued yesterday.
Other prominent academics who signed the petition included Thong-chai Winichakul of Wisconsin-Madison University, Yos Santasombat from Chiang Mai University, plus Thitinan Pongsudhirak and Puang-thong Pawakapan of Chulalongkorn University.
Abhisit blamed the World Heritage listing of Preah Vihear temple as causing the conflict.
"I want to emphasise that World Heritage listing of Preah Vihear has lead to the conflict, therefore we continue to disagree with the listing," he said. "With the situation now, international community should understand what we trying to say."
If the United Nations and the World Heritage Committee stopped the listing process, it would be easier to solve the border conflict, he said.
The Hindu temple at Preah Vihear has been at the central of a dispute between Thailand and Cambodia for many years as both sides claim rights over the ruins and its vicinity.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear was situated in Cambodian territory. Thailand accepted the verdict but argued that the surrounding area belonged to it.
The issue flared again when the the temple was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008 and Thailand disagreed on the grounds that the nearby area was under still under dispute.
"It's impossible to allow Cambodia to take the listing unilaterally," Abhisit said.
The boundary in the area was delimited in the early 20th century when Cambodia was a French colony but it has not yet been demarcated.
Yesterday, the academics suggested both countries should use the joint boundary mechanism to end the border conflict.
"We urge that border disputes, especially those related to Preah Vihear and its surroundings, be solved by bilateral negotiations, through the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) set up by the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding of June 14, 2000," they said in the statement.
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tea Banh said the JBC was the right body to solve the boundary problem although it would take time since its task needed to approval from the Thai parliament.