One of the most disturbing aspects of the renewed hostilities along the Thai-Cambodian border is the reported use of cluster munitions or bombs. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen first made the allegation, as printed in the Feb 11 of The Phnom Penh Post: ''They launched a cluster bomb. Is that a clash?''
Thailand denied the allegation, and army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said that in fact Cambodia had used the controversial weapon. Colonel Sanserd said a Cambodian cluster bomb attack was responsible for the death of Thanakorn Poonperm, deputy commander of the Paramilitary Rangers Company. Cambodia denied this charge.
Cambodian army deputy chief General Hing Bunheang and the director-general of the government-run Cambodian Mine Action Centre, Heng Ratana, backed up Hun Sen's allegation, but several sources, including Carl Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, cast doubt on the claim.
However, the Bangkok Post has obtained, and published in today's edition, new evidence that possibly supports the Cambodian assertion that Thailand did use cluster munitions.
Thus far the Thai army has not produced evidence that cluster bombs were used against its soldiers.
The use of cluster bombs by one or both sides is a very serious issue, and it should be further investigated.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions currently has 108 signatories, has been ratified by 48 states and became international law for the states parties when it entered into force on Aug 1 of last year. However, neither Thailand nor Cambodia has signed the convention.
This failure to sign is particularly perplexing in the case of Cambodia, which was heavily bombarded with cluster munitions by US warplanes during the Vietnam War.
According to the website Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor (http://www.the-monitor.org/index.php/cp/display/region_profiles/theme/572), ''The Kingdom of Cambodia has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, despite the fact that it was an early, prominent, and influential supporter of the Oslo Process that produced the convention.''
The website goes on to explain that there is a direct link between the failure to sign the convention and tensions with Thailand over Cambodia's application to Unesco for world heritage site status for Preah Vihear. The report quotes a Cambodian government spokesman as saying: ''Due to the fact that Thailand does not yet sign the treaty ... we can delay a bit our adhesion to the treaty.''
Both sides deny using cluster bombs, but neither side denies having them, and it is likely that the border tensions have also influenced the Thai government's decision not to sign the convention, which requires that parties ''destroy their stockpile of cluster munitions within eight years of entry into force'' of the convention.
Destruction is absolutely, without a doubt, what should happen to the many large stockpiles of these cruel weapons scattered around the world.
All weapons of war sow horror, but these are perhaps on another level because they are so dangerous to civilian populations.
After they are dropped from the air or fired from mortars, they are designed to break open in mid-air, releasing bomblets over a wide area. In places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, where cluster bombs have been widely used, the menace is compounded because the small objects are sometimes mistaken for toys by children.
They often remain deadly and undetected for many years. In that sense they are similar to land mines, which are still killers in Cambodia and to some extent in Thailand, where some border provinces were mined during the 1980s to keep the Khmer Rouge out. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre states there may be as many as six million mines still laid in Cambodian fields and small villages.
Thailand and Cambodia have officially prohibited land mines as signatories to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, and both countries should follow up on that action by signing and ratifying the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The fact that Thailand and Cambodia are adamant in their insistence that their respective militaries have never used the repugnant weapons against the other is proof that they view such behaviour to be unacceptable, even in a battle zone.
Why not make this position official?