A Thai army tank is unloaded onto a road near the Thai-Cambodia border in Surin province April 28, 2011. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang
Apr 28, 2011
By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Thailand and Cambodia agreed to a cease-fire on Thursday after a week of clashes that killed at least 15 people, wounded scores and sent more than 60,000 into evacuation shelters in Southeast Asia's deadliest border dispute in years.
The agreement caps seven days of sporadic clashes with guns, heavy artillery and small-rocket fire that fanned nationalist passions in both countries, threatened to overshadow elections in Thailand and reinforced doubts over Southeast Asia's ambitions to form an E.U.-style community by 2015.
Cambodia's Defence Ministry said both sides agreed to keep troops in the area, hold regular meetings between field commanders and leave their long-festering territorial disputes to a Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary set up a decade ago.
They also agreed to open a border checkpoint near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples at the heart of the fighting, although it was unclear when villagers would be allowed back to their remote, ravaged towns.
"We will abide by the cease-fire from now on and local commanders will meet regularly to avoid misunderstanding," Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said a decision on sending villagers home would be made soon.
"We hope that would ease tension and that both sides will respect this initial agreement," he said. "On our side of the border, the regional commander is expressing confidence peace will hold."
Cambodian Colonel Suos Sothea said Cambodia was in control of the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples around which rival troops clashed repeatedly. "The situation is now quiet," he said. "The temples are completely controlled by Cambodia."
Thai military and government officials declined to acknowledge Cambodian control of the two stone-walled temples.
Thailand has insisted the ruins reside in its Surin province according to a 1947 map. Cambodia says they are in its Oddar Meanchey province.
Sovereignty over the ancient temples -- Preah Vihear, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey -- and the jungle of the Dangrek Mountains surrounding them has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.
Earlier, Thailand reinforced the area with tanks following a night of shelling that killed a Thai soldier and wounded seven. Eight Thai tanks had rumbled through deserted villages towards the front lines where troops on both sides were sealed off by heavily guarded roadblocks, about 7 km (4.3 miles) away.
The fighting killed at least eight Cambodian and six Thai soldiers, and one Thai civilian.
"I WANT TO GO HOME"
Analysts have expressed scepticism the conflict -- which first flared with February 4-7 clashes near Preah Vihear that killed 11 people -- is really about sovereignty and say it appears politically driven from both sides.
Others say hawkish generals were colluding with nationalists to create a crisis that could cancel elections in Thailand expected by July and sideline the opposition to preserve the royalist establishment's hold on power.
In Karb Cherng, a village on the Thai side of the border damaged by the shelling and mortar fire, houses were abandoned and small shops shuttered. Police and bomb squads patrolled the empty town for remnants of unexploded ordnance.
"Where do you hide when they are shelling all night. I want to go home and I want things to go back to normal," said Jarat Unanom, a 51-year-old farmer.
The clashes are a setback for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member bloc with plans to become a regional community by 2015, illustrating the limits to regional diplomacy after the Thai army rebuffed international monitors proposed by ASEAN foreign ministers in February.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was scheduled to meet Indonesian foreign minister and ASEAN chairman Marty Natalegawa on Thursday in Jakarta.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Ambika Ahuja and Martin Petty in Bangkok; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Andrew Marshall)