Thursday, 28 April 2011 15:03 Cheang Sokha and Vong Sokheng
Oddar Meanchey province
Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday proposed that ceasefire talks be held with Thailand at an upcoming regional summit, as the border conflict entered a sixth straight day.
Speaking at the Council of Ministers, Hun Sen said he wanted to talk with Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva during a May 7-8 meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jakarta.
“Cambodia calls for a ceasefire,” Hun Sen said, “Abhisit has expressed his intention to negotiate a ceasefire ... which we welcome. The negotiations have to be held during the meeting of the 10 ASEAN countries. I will talk to Abhisit in front of the faces of ASEAN.”
Hun Sen said he would raise the issue even if it were not on the agenda and argued that the dispute over territory adjacent to Preah Vihear temple must involve participation by a third party because it had been raised to the United Nations Security Council and ASEAN.
After fighting near the temple in February killed at least 10, the Security Council endorsed efforts by ASEAN, chaired by Indonesia, to facilitate negotiations.
Hun Sen added, however, that he would support bilateral talks over other contested areas, including those near Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, the scene of violent clashes since Friday, which have killed at least 14.
The comments followed a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that said Cambodia considered a resolution passed on Tuesday by the Thai cabinet to be “tantamount to a declaration of war against Cambodia”. The Thai cabinet resolution supported “retaliatory military action to push Cambodian soldiers out of the disputed area”.
Despite the call for talks, Hun Sen also took the chance to hit out at Abhisit, who he labeled a “cruel” aggressor in the conflict.
“I have never met a Thai prime minister as bad as Abhisit. He was cruel, ordered the attack on Cambodia and threatened to take control of Cambodia,” he said.
“Cambodia is poor and small, but our weapons are not like a slingshot, and don’t forget that the ant can hurt the elephant,” he said.
Both countries accuse each other of aggression in clashes that have spanned six days and taken the lives of at least eight Cambodian and five Thai soldiers. Fighting has been concentrated along the border near Oddar Meanchey province, but also broke out on Tuesday at Veal Entry and Phnom Trop, just kilometres away from Preah Vihear temple.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said one Thai civilian had been killed in the hostilities, which has seen heavy artillery from both sides.
Panitan said yesterday that Abhisit was not willing to hold negotiations in front of ASEAN but was willing to meet Hun Sen bilaterally and only after Cambodia ceased “attacking Thai territory”.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is expected to meet with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa today to “finalise” negotiations over terms of reference that would allow neutral observers to monitor the border near Preah Vihear temple, Panitan said.
Cambodia and Thailand stated in February that they would allow Indonesian observers to monitor a ceasefire. However, Thailand failed to sign terms of reference for the observers amid sharp objections from the military.
Thani Thongphakdi, spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry, said that once the terms of reference were finalised, Cambodia would have to remove all troops from the disputed area as well as the temple at Preah Vihear, which lies in Cambodian territory according to a 1962 international court ruling, before Thailand would allow observers.
Thani argued that keeping soldiers at Preah Vihear temple would violate the 1954 Hague Convention and a 1972 Convention, both of which concern the protection of cultural property.
Amid talks over negotiations, fighting continued and displaced families expressed concern over their extended state of limbo yesterday.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that fighting reignited at about 5am and lasted about three hours. No casualties were reported.
Reurn Heng, a frontline soldier near Ta Moan temple, said gunfire was exchanged in the morning at Ta Krabey temple, about 10 kilometres away, and lasted over an hour. Gunshots were also traded at noon, he said, but ended quickly.
Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management department at the Cambodian Red Cross, said yesterday the number of displaced villagers had increased to 6,643 families, or roughly 26,572 people, predominantly women and children being sheltered at eight temporary camps.
“The number increased after they came from O’Smach [town],” he said, adding that civilians may be forced to camp out for as long as a month, with no clear end to the fighting in sight.
Several hundred families fled from O’Smach town, in Samrong district’s O’Smach commune in Oddar Meanchey province, on Tuesday night to a relief centre in Samrong town, some 48 kilometres away, travelling by truck, motorbike and foot through the rain. One relief centre at Tham Mayuth pagoda became overcrowded, pushing families to seek shelter at another camp at Chok Krous about two kilometres away.
“We arrived here at about 11pm under the rain, and we did not eat dinner last night,” said Chan Samnang, a former soldier who fled O’Smach with his four children. “I’m concerned about my family’s security.
We don’t know for sure when we can go back.” Phorn Sophorn, an Oddar Meanchey provincial police officer who was overseeing the site, said the new infusion of displaced villagers was stretching resources.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER