Thursday, 10 February 2011

Cambodia, Thailand to face UN over border dispute

Villagers gather to receive food from the Cambodian Red Cross at a camp after fleeing from their home

A nurse (L) offer medicine to villagers at a school camp after fleeing from their homes

Cambodian soldiers ride a motorbike as the sun rises over a village near Preah Vihear temple

VIA caai
PHNOM PENH — Diplomatic efforts to resolve a festering border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia gained momentum on Wednesday, with the two adversaries set to address the UN Security Council next week.

Thailand also raised the possibility of the first face-to-face talks between the two countries' foreign ministers since the deadly clashes erupted on Friday with a volley of shelling in disputed jungle surrounding a 900-year-old temple.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will brief members of the Security Council on Monday on the rift, an aide said, adding that a meeting with his Cambodian opposite number Hor Namhong on the sidelines was "possible".

In Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen said his top diplomat was preparing documents for the UN meeting.

At least eight people were killed in four days of cross-border violence, which forced thousands of families to flee on both sides of the frontier.

Each side blames the other for starting the fighting but both have held fire since the last skirmish early Monday.

The 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, built to honour the Hindu god Shiva, has been a source of contention between Thailand and Cambodia since it was granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the clifftop structure belonged to Cambodia but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.

Shrapnel and artillery fire appear to have scarred Preah Vihear, although no structural damage is visible, according to an AFP photographer who visited the site.

The world heritage body UNESCO said it was planning a mission to the area "as soon as possible" to assess the state of the temple, the most celebrated example of ancient Khmer architecture outside of Cambodia's Angkor Wat.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke with both prime ministers on Tuesday and said he again offered UN help to negotiate a deal to end the clashes.

Thailand has said it sees no need for third-party mediation, while Cambodia has insisted on it.

"I told Ban Ki-moon these are not armed clashes. This is a war," Hun Sen said in a speech in the Cambodian capital.

"This war will be resolved through the mechanism of the United Nations."

He said Cambodia was no longer interested in bilateral meetings. "But we will continue to negotiate peacefully" with the presence of a third party, he added.

With a lull in violence, the UN Security Council has held back from formal talks on the unrest to give time to a mediation bid by Indonesia, chair of the ASEAN regional bloc, diplomats in New York said.

Marty Natalegawa, foreign minister of Indonesia -- the current ASEAN chair -- held talks with his counterparts from both countries earlier this week and according to Hun Sen will also attend the New York meeting.

It is unclear exactly what triggered the latest violence, but diplomatic frictions have grown since late December when seven Thais, including one lawmaker, were arrested by Cambodia near the border for illegal entry.

Both Thailand and Cambodia have written to the UN Security Council twice about the border unrest.

Cambodia has called for a UN buffer force to be put on the border and for an urgent Security Council meeting on the clashes, while Bangkok has accused Phnom Penh of seeking the "internationalisation" of the conflict.

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