Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Thailand, Cambodia face diplomatic pressure to end dispute

Thai soldiers march during a visit by Thai Defence Minister General Pravit Wongsuwan at a paramilitary camp in Sri Sak Ket province, Feb. 9, 2011. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

via CAAI

09 Feb 2011 05:36
Source: reuters

* At least 11 people dead, 85 wounded; thousands evacuated

* Two sides may meet in New York next week

* Ceasefire holds for second day

By Prak Chan Thul

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Thailand and Cambodia faced growing diplomatic pressure on Wednesday to end an armed standoff on a stretch of border surrounding a 900-year-old clifftop temple as guns held silent for a second day.

Reuters witnesses said about 20 Thai tanks were sent to a military camp in Kantaralak district in Thailand's Sri Sa Ket province close to the disputed border, but Thai army officials said they were not reinforcing troops in the area.

Thailand and Cambodia blame each other for provoking intense exchanges of fire that killed at least three Thais and eight Cambodians since Friday. At least 34 Thais and 55 Cambodians were wounded, according to official statements from both sides.

Diplomats at the U.N. Security Council said it was possible the 15-nation body would discuss the issue next week after Washington, China and Southeast Asia's ASEAN regional grouping issued statements urging both sides to show restraint.

Bilateral talks could take place in New York, possibly on Monday when Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is to brief the Security Council, said his spokesman, Thani Thongpakdi. His Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, is also due in New York.

"There is a possibility that the two will meet on the sidelines," said Thani, adding that this year's Association of South East Asian Nations chair, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, will also be in New York.

Thailand and Cambodia are both members of ASEAN, which plans to form a European-style single market by 2015 and has urged bilateral talks to end the fiercest fighting on the disputed border since the early 1990s, when Cambodia's Khmer Rouge forces operated in the area.

At the border, Thai and Cambodian soldiers held fire for a second day after a clash on Friday set off four days of fighting in the 4.6-square-km (2-square-mile) contested area around the Preah Vihear temple claimed by the Southeast Asian neighbors.

"The situation remains calm but what happens next depends on the Thai troops," Chea Dara, deputy commander of the Cambodian army, told Reuters.


Cambodian troops continued to dig trenches around the temple.

Three Cambodian soldiers interviewed by Reuters on Wednesday said the number of Cambodians killed is likely higher than the government has indicated. They declined to be identified by name because they were not authorised to comment.

"There are many more deaths and injuries. People would be shocked," said one of the soldiers, adding that his deputy commander was killed in a clash on Sunday when a Thai shell hit the area near their unit.

Their statements could not be immediately confirmed by the Cambodian government.

In Cambodia's northern frontier areas, schools and temples have been turned into makeshift refugee centers.

Reasons behind the fighting remain unclear. Some analysts say hawkish Thai generals and nationalist allies may be trying to topple Thailand's government or create a pretext to stage another coup and cancel elections expected this year.

Others say it may be a breakdown in communication channels at a time of strained relations over Cambodia's flying of a national flag in the disputed area and laying of a stone tablet inscribed with "This is Cambodia."

The temple, known as Preah Vihear, or "Mountain of the Sacred Temple", in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, sits on a triangular plateau that forms a natural border.

Both sides have been locked in a standoff since July 2008, when Preah Vihear was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, which Thailand opposed on grounds that territory around the temple had never been demarcated.

The International Court of Justice in 1962 awarded the temple to Cambodia, which uses a century-old French map as the basis for its territorial claims, but the ruling failed to determine ownership of the scrub next to it. (Additional reporting by Prapan Chankaew in Ban Sangam, Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok and Damir Sagolj in Preah Vihear; Writing by Jason Szep; editing by Andrew Marshall)

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