February 06, 2011
By Daniel Ten Kate and Anuchit Nguyen
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the United Nations Security Council to convene an urgent meeting after accusing Thailand of damaging an 11th century Hindu temple in a “full-scale armed aggression.”
The attack last night followed a breakdown in ceasefire talks after three days of gun battles at the UN World Heritage Site that killed at least two soldiers. Thailand said Cambodia started the three hours of fighting by firing artillery shells, rockets and bullets across the border.
“Cambodia initiated the fighting, so it’s their responsibility now whether they want to return to the negotiating table,” Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said by phone today from Bangkok.
Relations between Thailand and Cambodia soured in 2008 when a Thai court ordered a government linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to withdraw support for Cambodia’s bid to list the disputed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site. Gun battles in the area since 2008 have killed at least eight soldiers and prompted civilians to flee the area.
“This fresh onslaught by Thai armed forces has resulted in more human casualties and damages to the temple of Preah Vihear as well as other properties,” Hun Sen said in the letter addressed yesterday to UN Security Council President Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti.
As many as 12 Thai soldiers and two villagers were injured in last night’s clashes, Sansern said. The border situation “has eased” since then, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said today.
‘Trying to Coordinate’
“We want the situation to be resolved as soon as possible,” Panitan said in an interview broadcast on Money Channel today. “We are trying to coordinate with them, but it will take some time as we already had agreements and Cambodia broke them.”
Thailand’s $264 billion economy is more than 26 times the size of Cambodia’s. The Cambodian army spent $123 million in 2008, compared with $4.1 billion for the military in Thailand, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said before the clashes yesterday that the army acted to protect the country and wouldn’t invade Cambodia. He condemned the shelling of civilians and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
“We will solve the border issue with peaceful methods,” he said. “This is the right way to benefit people and solve the problems for the long term.”
The flare-up comes as about 2,500 yellow-shirted Thai nationalists blocked a Bangkok street for a second week to pressure Abhisit to take tougher measures against Cambodia in a border dispute. They are demanding that Thailand drop out of the UN World Heritage Committee, cancel a 2000 agreement with Cambodia on border negotiations and urge Cambodians to withdraw from disputed border areas.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled in a 9-3 vote that Cambodia had sovereignty over Preah Vihear. The court didn’t rule on the disputed land near the temple.
“A wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment,” Cambodia said in a statement yesterday, citing an unidentified military commander based near the border. In Thailand, the temple is known as Phra Viharn.
--With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok. Editors: Patrick Harrington, Ben Richardson.
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at email@example.com