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Friday, April 29, 2011

Cambodia Seeks Court Ruling on Dispute With Thailand

Cambodia has called on the International Court of Justice to review a 1962 judgment over a disputed ancient Hindu temple along the Thai border. The move follows renewed fighting that broke an hours-old ceasefire.


Thai military armoured vehicle

In a submission to the International Court of Justice, Cambodia calls for an interpretation a 50-year-old ruling that gave the 11th century temple to Cambodia.

Cambodian Foreign Affairs Spokesman Koy Kuong announced the move Friday in Phnom Penh.

The spokesman says his government wants the court to interpret the 1962 decision that gave Preah Vihear to Cambodia. He says that ruling was based on a map that is recognized by the international community.

The border around the temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand, has remained in dispute despite the 1962 decision. The temple is most easily accessed from Thai territory, and Bangkok claims ownership of the land near it.

Cambodia announced its appeal to the international court hours after new fighting along the border broke a ceasefire agreement. Both sides blamed the other for the clash

The ceasefire agreement reached on Thursday aimed to end a week of fighting, which has claimed at least 16 lives and forced tens of thousands of villagers from both countries to flee homes near the border.

The Thai government thinks the latest clashes are linked to Cambodia’s move to petition the International Court of Justice. Thani Thongphakdi is a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman:

"From our perspective I think this puts all the jigsaw pieces in place," said Thani Thongphakdi. "What the Cambodian side has been doing since it had been initiating these conflicts along the border. It was laying the path, laying the ground work for their decision to submit a request to the International Court of Justice."

The countries have fought sporadically along the border since 2008, when Cambodia obtained World Heritage status for the Hindu temple. That angered many Thai nationalists, and both sides increased military patrols along the border.

It is not clear what started the latest fighting. Regional political analysts, however, say that domestic politics on both sides makes it hard to resolve the dispute. In Cambodia, they say, it appears Prime Minister Hun Sen benefits by appearing tough against a larger neighbor, and it is possible he hopes that elections expected in Thailand later this year will allow his friend, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to power.

On the other side, the analysts say, Thailand’s powerful military commanders may hope a crisis along the border will provide an excuse to call off elections, and keep a new government from shaking up the senior ranks.

The border issue is set to be raised at a summit of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be held in Jakarta next month. Thailand says the summit may lead to talks between Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Cambodia’s Hun Sen "if conditions are right".

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Thai, Cambodia cease fire breaks; toll rises to 16

Medical personnel examine an injured Thai soldier at a hospital following clashes between Thai and Cambodia in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, Thursday, April 28, 2011. Thai and Cambodian military commanders agreed to a cease-fire Thursday after seven days of artillery duels killed at least 15 people, Cambodia said. Thailand did not immediately confirm it, but the contested border was quiet most of the day. (Wason Wanichakorn / AP)


By Sopheng Chheang, associate press, Thanyarat Doksoine

PRASAT, Thailand (AP) — Thai and Cambodian troops broke a brief cease-fire and clashed for an eighth day Friday, shattering hopes of a quick end to a long-running border conflict that has forced nearly 100,000 villagers to flee. The death toll rose to 16.

Fighting erupted in the morning and again briefly Friday night, both countries' troops said as displaced residents on each side waited to see if the worst skirmishes in years between the Southeast Asian neighbors might finally end.

"I wish both sides could talk, so that there is no more fighting," said Boonteung Somsed, a 58-year-old Thai construction worker who fled to the village of Prasat, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the border.

"Every time a soldier picks up a weapon," he said, "a village has to run away from home."

Thailand and Cambodia have clashed six times since 2008 over the border, where several crumbling Hindu temples built nearly 1,000 years ago during the Khmer Empire sit atop cliffs and in jungles mined in wars past. The land has been disputed for more than half a century, but analysts say domestic politics on both sides is driving the conflict as much as any real disagreement between the countries.

Field commanders agreed to the brief truce Thursday in a meeting at the disputed border. But Cambodian Col. Suos Sothea said the Thai army again fired artillery shells into Cambodia early Friday and small arms fire crackled anew around the Ta Krabey temple, which is in a disputed area.

"We cannot trust the Thais," he said. "Yesterday they said they'd stop fighting and now they are attacking us again."

Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said there had been light clashes late Thursday as well as early Friday. He blamed Cambodia for breaking the deal, saying its "local units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did."

Sansern told reporters in Bangkok that the Thai army sent a 10-member delegation of middle-ranking officers across the border into Cambodia to meet with their counterparts again Friday on how to avoid further clashes. "The first step is to sustain the truce, then we can take further steps for talks," he said.

The director of Phanom Dongrak hospital, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the border, confirmed one Thai soldier was killed late Thursday, bringing the total dead to 15 soldiers and one civilian.

Thai authorities say the fighting has uprooted 51,000 people from their homes. Cambodia's Red cross says more than 45,000 people there have also fled over the past week.

"I want both countries to stop fighting, so that I can go home," said 37-year-old, Saman Yingnaram, a farmer in Prasat. "My cassava field will be sabotaged by (insects) by the time I return."

On Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his Thai counterpart had agreed to allow Indonesian observers, but there was no word on when they would arrive. Cambodia had already agreed to the deployment.

Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after the last round of fighting in February.

Few believe the conflict will lead to full-scale war and neither side appears to be trying to capture territory.

Some believe Thailand's military fears the possible outcome of elections expected in June or July and is trying to rally Thais behind it. Thai media have suggested Cambodia's Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, was fomenting border tensions to distract his public.

Both militaries have said they were merely defending against foreign aggression.
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Thai-Cambodia ceasefire breaks down

Border skirmishes continue for an eighth day as both sides accuse the other of breaking a short-lived truce.

Thai soldiers near the border with Cambodia in Surin province as fighting there killed at least 16 people [REUTERS]

A brief ceasefire between Thailand and Cambodia has broken down, shattering hopes for a quick end to the border conflict as the two sides exchanged fire for an eighth day.

Field commanders agreed to the truce in a meeting at the disputed border on Thursday. But Cambodian Colonel Suos Sothea said the Thai army fired artillery shells into Cambodia again on Friday and small arms fire crackled anew around the Ta Krabey temple, which lies in a disputed zone along the frontier.

"We cannot trust the Thais," he said. "Yesterday they said they'd stop fighting and now they are attacking us again."

The death toll since the clashes has risen to 16.

Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said there had been light clashes late on Thursday as well as early on Friday.

He blamed Cambodia for breaking the deal, saying its "local units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did."

The director of Phanom Dongrak hospital, about 20 km from the border, confirmed one Thai soldier was killed late on Thursday, bringing the total dead to 16.

Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Ta Mieng, Thailand, near the border with Cambodia, said that "Thais are beefing up their presence, but Cambodians are doing the same as well.

"More and more people in Thailand, are starting to believe that there are political motives behind these clashes.

"Cambodia has used these clashes as a political tool for internal politics."

Meeting cancelled
Prawit Wongsuwon, Thailand's defence minister, had been expected to meet Tea Banh, his Cambodian counterpart, in Phnom Penh on Wednesday - but reportedly pulled out of the trip because of alleged comments made on Cambodian television.

Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman responded by saying Thailand "isn't honest about wanting to reach a permanent ceasefire".

The bloodiest fighting along the disputed jungle border in decades has spread to the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, the focus of strained relations between the neighbours since it was granted UN World Heritage status in 2008.

The area, 150km east of two other disputed temple complexes that were the scene of fierce fighting over the weekend, had been relatively calm for two months.

Thailand says it wants a bilateral solution to the dispute, while Cambodia seeks international mediation and independent monitors in the region - as agreed by Association of South East Asian Nations foreign ministers in Jakarta in February.

Sovereignty over the ancient, stone-walled Hindu 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.
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