Sunday, 20 February 2011

Thailand, Cambodia agree to border truce

via CAAI

Published: 20/02/2011

Thai and Cambodian troops signed a ceasefire agreement effective from noon yesterday.

MEMENTO OF VIOLENCE: A novice at Wat Siriwarawat in Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district strikes a ‘‘mortar shell bell’’next to the temple’s traditional brass bell.

"All is well," said Second Army commander Thawatchai Samutsakhon after the agreement was sealed at a restaurant at the Chong Sa-ngam Pass border crossing in Si Sa Ket province.

The ceasefire is a breakthrough in the raging border conflict following clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops in a disputed area near Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district earlier this month.

However, it is unclear if the ceasefire will be permanent. A previous truce had been called on Feb 5 but violence flared up again the next day.

An army source said Lt Gen Thawatchai was part of the ceasefire-signing delegation led by Army chief-of-staff Daopong Rattanasuwan, who represented the Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The delegation also included armed forces specialist Nipat Thonglek and Suranaree Taskforce commander Chavalit Choonprasarn.

The Cambodian side was led by deputy army commander Hun Manet, the son of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The ceasefire was inked after more than two hours of meetings, which ended at 12.30pm yesterday.

The ceasefire took effect yesterday and the agreement contains seven other binding points.

The other points are; no more troops are to be deployed in the conflict zones and the existing troops stationed there must not move; no heavy armaments and artillery in the conflict areas may be moved; neither side may attack the other using heavy weaponry; no building or structure of any kind may be constructed inside the disputed 4.6 square kilometre border zone; no more military bunkers are to be built; no more road construction is allowed; and the senior military officers of both countries are to communicate via a dedicated mobile phone hotline in discussing border issues.

The arrangements over troops and weapons under the ceasefire agreement are pending future border negotiations at government level or until the next Asean ministerial meeting on Tuesday, which will be attended by all 10 member nations' foreign ministers.

"What the soldiers must do now is observe the ceasefire," said the source.

"The longer-term problems are for the respective governments to solve."

Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and his Cambodian counterpart, Teah Banh, will meet at the Thai-Camobodian General Border Committee session in the middle of the year.

Lt Gen Hun Manet's involvement has raised Thailand's confidence that the ceasefire will be respected. But Thai security authorities have not ruled out a breach of the ceasefire as Cambodian troops do not always obey orders, the source said.

The source added both sides were in agreement that neither country benefits from the prolonged fighting.

The ceasefire meeting yesterday highlighted concerns over the precarious state of border security on Phu Makhua mountain in Si Sa Ket, which was the hotspot in the recent troop clashes.

The source said that during the meeting yesterday, Lt Gen Hun Manet asked why the Thai government has allowed certain media outlets to attack Cambodia over the border violence.

The outlets were understood to be controlled by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has been highly critical of Cambodia in recent months.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday Unesco was sending a special envoy to hear both countries' take on the border dispute.

However, the envoy will not travel to the Preah Vihear temple due to "diplomatic sensitivity".

The envoy is expected to arrive in Thailand next week, Mr Abhisit said after a telephone conversation with Unesco director-general Irina Bokova yesterday.

He said the director-general felt the contentious management of the area around Preah Vihear temple, declared a world heritage site by Unesco, should not proceed until the border dispute is resolved.

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