Thursday, 28 April 2011

Thai-Cambodian Fighting Intensifies Amid New Diplomatic Efforts

VOA News  
April 28, 2011

Photo: AP
An injured Thai soldier on a stretcher is helped to board a helicopter to be transferred to a hospital following the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, April 28, 2011

Officials say Thai and Cambodian forces have agreed to a cease-fire, raising hopes for an end to fighting that has raged for a week in a disputed border area near two ancient Hindu temples.

Cambodian officials said the cease-fire was negotiated Thursday during a meeting of field commanders after some of the fiercest fighting since the skirmishes began on April 22.

They said the sides had agreed to open a single border point to allow displaced villagers to return to their homes, and to meet regularly to avoid future misunderstandings.

Thai officials said earlier that one soldier was killed as fighting intensified and spread overnight, bringing the death toll in seven days of fighting to 15.

The cease-fire, which leaves the border dispute to be settled by a civilian commission, came amid renewed diplomatic moves.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, in Jakarta Thursday for an Association of Southeast Asian Nations cultural meeting, was expected to discuss the crisis with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Natalegawa, as this year's chairman of ASEAN, has been seeking to mediate between the two countries.

The U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Anne Kenney, met earlier Thursday with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. She called for both countries to return to the negotiating table, and suggested the dispute be handled through ASEAN mechanisms.

Proposed peace talks collapsed Wednesday when Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon canceled a trip to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, speaking during a border visit Wednesday, said Thailand wants to hold talks, but that Cambodia must stop attacking before that can happen.

In Phnom Penh, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed for a cease-fire, and said he is ready to hold peace talks with Mr. Abhisit at a regional security summit in Jakarta May 4 through May 6.

The poorly demarcated border between the two countries has long been a source of friction, but there is no obvious reason for the latest fighting.

Each side accuses the other of starting it, while analysts suggest that hardline nationalist groups and military elements in the two countries may have political motives.

Thailand is facing contentious national elections later this year, and some analysts say elements within the powerful Thai military may be attempting to exert influence ahead of the polls, which are expected by July.

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