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Friday, October 17, 2008

UN asks Thailand, Cambodia to expedite peace talks

United Nations (PTI): Expressing concern over the exchange of fire along the Thai-Cambodian border, the United Nations has asked both the neighbours to expedite talks to resolve differences.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed "deep concern" over Wednesday's gunfire between the soldiers of the two countries near a disputed ancient temple.

"He calls on both parties to exercise utmost restraint and urges them to expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be resolved peacefully," Ban's spokesperson said.

Media reports say two people were killed during the exchange of fire between Thai and Cambodian soldiers near the Preah Vihear Temple, which was enlisted among the World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in July.

Since then the military forces have been build-up from both sides along the border. Ban had called for restraint earlier also.

The 11th century temple was recognised by the World Heritage Committee for "its natural situation on a promontory, with sheer cliffs overlooking a vast plain and mountain range; the quality of its architecture adapted to natural environment and religious function of the temple and finally the exceptional quality of the carved stone ornamentation of the temple."

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Thai-Cambodian border quiet as two sides meet

Bangkok (dpa) - The Thai government Thursday rebuffed a Cambodian claim that it was an unreliable and biased chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as the two sides are locked in a bitter border dispute.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said other members of the 10-country body would understand Thailand's restraint and probity on the issue.

Two Cambodian soldiers were reportedly killed in an exchange of gunfire and 10 Thai soldiers allegedly captured Wednesday afternoon after the two countries accused each other of stepping over previously agreed lines around a 900-year-old Hindu temple, ownership of which has been disputed for decades.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Wednesday that his country had been forced to bypass Asean in seeking an impartial mediator because Thailand was currently in the chair, which is held by rotation. He accused Thailand of provoking Wednesday's brief firefight about 3 kilometres from Preah Vihear temple.

Thailand's troubled government, under siege by opponents who accuse it of corruption and undermining the monarchy, is scheduled to host Asean's annual meeting in December.

Mr Hor Namhong hinted the association chair might be taken away from Thailand. Cambodia last month said Thailand's political instability and bias might make it an unsuitable chair.

Mr Tharit said that Thailand had overwhelming military superiority but had nevertheless acted in a sober and responsible manner. The 40-year-old organization surely did not expect its members to agree on everything, he added.

Foreign diplomats eyeing the spat said the Thai government is under intense pressure to flaunt its patriotic credentials to blunt the claims of its opponents who claim it is a puppet of the controversial exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Cambodian government is similarly steeped in prickly nationalist rhetoric under the rule of its authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the diplomats added.

The border conflict was calmed in August when both sides agreed to settle the matter through bilateral talks held by a joint border committee, but those talks have since stalled amid Thailand's chaotic domestic political situation.

The Thai foreign ministry this week urged Thais to leave Cambodia for fear of a repeat of riots in 2003 that saw the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh burnt down in a nationalist upsurge triggered by alleged insults made by a Thai actress about Cambodia.

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Thais claim Cambodia laying landmines

The Thai opposition Democrat Party says the cross border conflict is a direct result of the UN's granting Cambodia sole recognition over the temple site, whose main access route lies on the Thai side of the border. And Thai Foreign Ministry officials are very concerned over the recent discovery of new land mines - now banned by both countries - being uncovered inside Thai territory near the disputed area.

Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Virachn Plasai is the director general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Democrat Party Korn Chatikavanij, Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Korn Chatikavanij

CORBEN: Thai foreign ministry officials in a briefing to foreign diplomats Thursday raised the accusation of Cambodian troops laying landmines inside Thai territory. While some areas of the Thai Cambodian border are still to be demined - from the Cambodian war of the 1970s into the 1990s, the mines found after the injury to two unarmed Thai rangers were new.

The mines, Russian made PMN-2 anti-personnel mines used in wars from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, were laid in an area already cleared when the unarmed Thai rangers entered the region on October 6 - three days after a fire fight with Cambodian troops that left injured on both sides. Two Thai rangers survived but lost the lower part of their legs to the mines.

Virachn Plasai is the director general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Virachn says the chief concern from all the recent developments was the discovery of laid landmines, in contravention of the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning landmines.

VIRACHN: What we find of grave concern is the discovery of these landmines newly planted, newly planted. So we believe that this is a grave threat for the international community as a whole because we believe that we had banned them; now they're back and used in a way that is quite expert and clever with a view to killing. So we think it's a grave concern we should alert the international community to work together in order to find who did it and take whatever measures we have to.

CORBEN: What do you see diplomatically as the next step for both countries?

VIRACHN: The next step for both countries is to let the steam out by having meetings of the military through the mechanisms on the Thai side - which is the regional border committee - on their side - the task force - that will help tremendously.

CORBEN: Going forward now is there an expectation that diplomatically things can return to normal?

VIRACHN: Oh yes I very much hope so. And I think, I personally believe it will return to normal. The only thing that worries me really is these mines - the land mines worry me most because it's something that is unthinkable that could happen in the year 2008. For the boundary question ... if our Cambodian friends are ready to be patient .. just let the democratic internal process take its course -- in due time we'll be able to sit down and negotiate meaningfully with them.

Thailand's opposition Democrat Party earlier this year led a fierce attack in parliament against the government of former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej after the Cabinet agreed to allow Cambodia to make a sole application to the United Nations Education and Scientific Organization for the temple to be recognized as a world heritage site. The then foreign minister was then forced to resign after a Thai court found he had failed to present the agreement before parliament.

Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Korn Chatikavanij says part of the blame for this week's fighting lies with the Thai government itself

KORN: The whole incident is entirely unnecessary and it really emanates from the attempt by the Cambodian side to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site and we as a party had previously forewarned the World heritage Organization UNESCO.. That their participating in the proposal by Cambodia could actually lead to exactly what's happening. Once the temple site was accepted as a World heritage site with preconditions on the removal of military forces from the site it was always going lead to this because now Cambodia needs for the Thai military to withdraw and have it done by February otherwise the approval lapses.

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