Saturday, 30 April 2011

Thai-Cambodia border tense as Phnom Penh claims truce

Thai soldiers recover a rocket at the disputed Thai-Cambodian border. (AFP Photo/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

via CAAI

30 April 2011

PHANOM DONG RAK, Thailand: Heavy weapons fire pounded the Thai-Cambodian border for an eighth day on Friday as Bangkok denied claims from Phnom Penh of a truce to end the countries' bloodiest conflict in decades.

The Cambodian defence ministry announced a peace deal on Friday, after clashes on the disputed jungle frontier shattered a previous short-lived ceasefire.

Thailand's government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed discussions between commanders on the ground but said no deal had been reached.

"We actually have talked at local officers' level which I hope will lead to a real ceasefire," he said.

He added the country was "disappointed" with a resumption of fighting after Thursday's truce, in which one Thai soldier was killed and six more wounded.

Clashes around two ancient temple complexes have now left 16 people dead and caused about 85,000 people to flee from their homes.

Cambodian field commander Suos Sothea told AFP on Friday evening that the situation was "calm so far but we are still on alert".

He added that he remained wary of Thai troops "because they talk but they keep attacking us".

According to the Cambodian statement, commanders from both sides agreed Friday to "a cessation of the firing" as well as to halt troop movements.

They also "promised to meet in person or be in contact over the phone" every two days to prevent further skirmishes, it added.

Colonel Preeda Butraj, a spokesman for the Thai army in the country's northeast, dismissed Cambodia's truce claims as "unreliable and untrustworthy".

"We have to wait and see what the situation is like day by day," he said.

Each side has blamed the other for sparking the fighting, which has stopped and started periodically over the past week.

Thai and Cambodian commanders had resolved at Thursday's talks to reopen border gates and "create a climate to allow civilians to return home", according to the Cambodian defence ministry.

On Friday Cambodia said it had asked the World Court to clarify a 1962 ruling about territory around the ancient Preah Vihear temple - an area that has inflamed tensions between the two neighbours.

The current clashes are centred around two temple complexes 150 kilometres west of Preah Vihear, although there was some fighting at the site itself on Tuesday.

Seven Thai troops and eight Cambodian soldiers have died since the clashes began on April 22, and Bangkok has said a Thai civilian has also been killed.

Heavy weapons fire has strayed towards villages around the frontier, causing nearly 50,000 people in Thailand and around 35,000 in Cambodia to flee their homes.

Phnom Penh claims that Thailand used spy planes and poison gas during the conflict - allegations denied by Bangkok.

The countries have come under increasing international pressure to stop the violence.

The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from years of war in Cambodia.

Preah Vihear has been the focus of border tensions since it was granted UN World Heritage status in 2008 and 10 people died in clashes between the neighbours there in February.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the 900-year-old temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre surrounding area.

Cambodia said a clarification by the court was of "the utmost necessity... in order to peacefully and definitely settle the boundary problem between the two countries in the area".

Thailand said it had hired legal advisors and would fight the case.

- AFP/de

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