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Monday, April 25, 2011

Troops ready to fight with Cambodia if government orders: Thai army chief

BANGKOK, April 25 - Thai army commander-in-chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday reaffirmed the army is ready to engage in battle with Cambodia if the government orders so, standing firm that the Indonesian observers will be allowed to observe the border only if Cambodia withdraws its troops from the conflict zone and returns to dialogue.

The army chief made his remarks following criticism over the operations of the Thai military in the latest border clashes with Cambodia.

The renewed border clash occurred near the Ta Kwai and Ta Muan Thom temples in Surin on Friday. Sporadic clashes have been reported since then as border demarcation remains disputed by the two neighbouring countries despite attempts to resolve the problem through meetings of bilateral commissions at several levels.

The renewed border clash occurred near the Ta Kwai and Ta Muan Thom temples in Surin on Friday. Sporadic clashes have been reported since then as border demarcation remains disputed by the two neighbouring countries despite attempts to resolve the problem through meetings of bilateral commissions at several levels.

Five Thai soldiers were killed while 35 were wounded during the four days of clashes. About 25,000 border area residents in Surin and about 4,500 others in Buri Ram have been evacuated from their homes to temporary shelters.

Gen Prayuth stated troops have been deployed in every conflict zone to protect Thailand's sovereignty and have never retreated even a single step from the border.

Now the soldiers are staying fixed at the Thai border and we are ready to fight if ordered by the government, but [whether] the government can do it or not depends on the bilateral agreements that we have made with [our] neighbour,” the army chief said.

Gen Prayuth noted that whether the battle will occur or not depends on the governments of the two countries, adding that war has not been declared and that the latest incidents are only normal clashes along the border.

He stated that if a third country wants to intervene in the talks between Thailand and Cambodia in case the parties cannot continue their bilateral talks, such action will be accepted only when Cambodia withdraws all its troops from the disputed areas.

"There must be no Cambodian soldiers at Preah Vihear temple, or in local communities and temples, otherwise no observers will be allowed to do their work," Gen Prayuth asserted.

The army chief said that concerned agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters and the three armed forces disagreed with having third country observers, but if necessary, the army has already made its stance clear to the Abhisit government that all troops must leave the disputed Preah Vihear area.

Meanwhile, Cambodia accused Thailand of damaging the two ancient temples during three days of border clashes that killed 12 people on both sides.

Agence-France Presse (AFP) news agency reported Cambodia's defence ministry as saying in a statement that the Thai attacks had caused damage to the ruins, without giving further details.

"We do not know the extent of the damage to the temples yet," AFP quoted ministry of defence spokesman Chhum Socheat as saying. (MCOT online news)
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Ties with Cambodia in danger

Govt threatens harder line over 'hostile acts'

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said the government will review all ties with Cambodia since Phnom Penh had shown no intention of bringing the border spat back to the negotiating table and had continued to commit hostile acts against Thailand.

His comment came after Thai and Cambodian troops battled yesterday for a fourth straight day along the disputed border area in a fresh bout of violence which has claimed the lives of five Thai soldiers and at least seven Cambodian troops.

"Cambodia has attacked Thailand continuously and intentionally," Mr Kasit said after returning from a trip to villages affected by skirmishes in Surin province.

Thailand had tried to contact Cambodian officials at all levels to work out a truce, but the Cambodian side repeatedly refused to talk, Mr Kasit said.

"Since Cambodia showed no intention to negotiate, we have to revise our relationship with the country in a bid to return peace and safety to people along the border areas," the minister said.

Mr Kasit said he would discuss the policy alteration with Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon after the latter returns from Surin today.

The ministry will also inform fellow Asean members that the fatal clashes erupted because Cambodia encroached on Thai territory, he said.

But while the government is taking a harder line, Thailand's military appears more open to compromise.

Gen Prawit said yesterday he was ready to hold talks with his Cambodian counterpart through the General Border Committee (GBC) in a third country.

It is the first time that the Thai military has agreed for a GBC meeting to be held outside Thailand or Cambodia.

The minister said he wanted the eighth meeting of the GBC, which is co-chaired by both Thai and Cambodian defence ministers, to take place earlier than originally scheduled in June.

Cambodia is set to host the GBC meeting but if it is not ready, the Thai armed forces are willing to hold the meeting instead, said Gen Prawit.

"The GBC meeting can be held anywhere, but it must be a bilateral issue," he said.

A source at the Defence Ministry said Gen Prawit will travel to Indonesia to attend the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting in mid-May and he will meet his Cambodian counterpart, Gen Tea Banh, to discuss the border issue on the sidelines to prepare for the GBC meeting.

But the military's stance on Indonesia's proposal to deploy observers to border areas on both sides remains unchanged.

Indonesian observers may be allowed to enter the disputed area on the condition that Cambodian soldiers withdraw from the area around Preah Vihear temple and other temples and communities in the area, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha says.

Gen Prayuth said the Foreign Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the armed forces have disagreed with the proposal to allow a third country to observe.

"But if it is necessary, we have put forward a condition that all Cambodian soldiers must withdraw from Preah Vihear," Gen Prayuth said.

"There must not be Cambodian soldiers around Preah Vihear, other temples and communities. If Cambodian soldiers remain, there will be no observers."

Gen Prayuth said he did not consider the clashes to be a war, but if does escalate, Thai soldiers are ready to protect the country's sovereignty, he said.

Gen Prayuth dismissed reports that Thai troops retreated during the fighting.

"We will launch an attack at the government's order. If the order is issued today, by tomorrow we will have seized the area," he said, adding that troops of the two countries are now face to face 100 metres away from each other's territory.

A border clash broke out near Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai temples in Surin's Phanom Dong Rak district again when Thai and Cambodia troops exchanged artillery fire yesterday evening. No casualties were reported.

A previous exchange had broken out at around 10.30pm on Sunday.

Paramilitary ranger Aree Kongnakpanao was killed and six soldiers injured.The wounded were taken to a hospital in Wirayothin military camp and Surin Centre hospital in Surin.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand has evidence Cambodian troops had attacked first and Mr Kasit would discuss the issue with the Asean chair on Thursday.

Mr Abhisit said negotiations were useless if Cambodia wanted to escalate the conflict. There will be retaliation if Cambodian opens fire, he said.
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Cambodia says Thailand damaged temples

Cambodia on Monday accused Thailand of damaging two ancient temples during three days of border clashes between the Southeast Asian neighbors that have left at least 12 soldiers dead.

Cambodian armored vehicles stand by near disputed border
There was no immediate comment from Thai authorities, and the extent of the damage was unclear Monday as a precarious calm held in the disputed border region housing the nearly 1,000-year-old stone temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabey from the Khmer empire.

The current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, was in "intense" talks with both sides to secure an end to the conflict, according to Hamzah Thayeb, a senior official at Indonesia's foreign ministry who oversees Asia-Pacific affairs.

Natalegawa was due in Cambodia on Monday, but Thayeb said the trip was postponed because Indonesia was still negotiating terms on sending in military observers - a move that Thailand has so far vehemently rejected.

The dispute between Cambodia and Thailand involves small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fueling tensions. Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when Cambodia's 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given UN World Heritage status over Thailand's objections.

The current round of clashes is the first reported since February, when eight soldiers and civilians were killed near the Preah Vihear temple, which suffered minor damage from exploding artillery and mortar shells that knocked small chucks out of a few of its walls. The latest fighting is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Preah Vihear.

After easing earlier in the day, fighting resumed late Sunday night, both sides said.

Thai Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Cambodian troops opened fire, killing a Thai soldier. Chea Samrach, a Cambodian soldier on the front line, said Thai snipers killed one Cambodian soldier and wounded two others. Ten soldiers died in the first two days of the clashes.

Cambodia's defence Ministry said Thai forces fired 1,000 artillery and mortar shells Sunday, damaging the two temples. Some shells landed about 12 miles (20 kilometers) inside Cambodian territory, forcing 17,000 people to flee and destroying one school and a dozen homes, and setting ablaze some farming fields, the ministry said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a cease-fire, but the prospects for peace appear shaky, with the two sides disagreeing on what triggered the fighting and differing on how to negotiate the conflicting territorial claims underlying the crisis.

Indonesia's efforts to mediate have been stymied so far by Thailand's reluctance to allow Indonesian military observers in the area of dispute. Thailand insists the problem should be solved through bilateral talks with Cambodia, but Cambodia wants third-party mediation.

The fighting comes as Thailand's military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of general elections expected by early July. The army previously effectively vetoed a plan to station Indonesian observers to monitor the border situation.

- AP
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Thai-Cambodia border clashes raise diplomatic stakes

Regional diplomats stepped up efforts Monday to end the clashes along a disputed border between Thailand and Cambodia.

Thai soldiers, in red berets, train defense volunteers to use the shotguns at a village near the Thai-Cambodian border in Surin province, northeastern Thailand, on Monday, April 25. Cambodia accused Thailand of damaging two ancient temples during three days of border clashes that killed 12 people, as Southeast Asian diplomats struggled Monday to find a way to end the repeated deadly flare-ups.

By Simon Montlake

Bangkok, Thailand
Diplomats are struggling to tamp down on four days of deadly firefights between Thai and Cambodian troops along their disputed land border. Repeated clashes between the two militaries, egged on by nationalist rhetoric from both sides, has thus far proven an intractable and embarrassing issue for Southeast Asia's regional diplomatic body.

Thailand and Cambodia have each accused the other of provoking fighting that erupted Friday, which has killed at least 12 soldiers and forced tens of thousands of villagers to flee. The clashes are the deadliest in nearly three years of skirmishes along the mountainous border, which is disputed in several places, including around the grounds of an 11th century Hindu temple known as Preah Vihear.

The latest fighting broke out near two other ancient Hindu temples. Cambodia said Monday that Thai troops had damaged the ancient sites, though similar claims have proven to be exaggerated in the past. Both sides have fired mortar shells and rockets in recent days.

IN PICTURES: Preah Vihear temple battle

While Thailand insists on settling the dispute via bilateral talks, Cambodia has repeatedly appealed to the United Nations to intervene. In February, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which both countries belong, agreed to send observers to monitor a ceasefire in what analysts say is a test of ASEAN’s diplomatic weight. Until now, the group of 10 nations has focused on economic cooperation and steered clear of thorny border disputes.

As the current ASEAN chair, Indonesia offered to send observers to the border. But disagreement over the observers’ role, and opposition from Thailand’s powerful military, has delayed the mission. Angered by the delays, Cambodia has accused Thailand of reneging on its commitment to ASEAN’s monitoring mission.

Amid wrangling, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa canceled a planned visit Monday to Bangkok even as ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan called for "a genuine dialogue between the two sides." Thailand's foreign minister is currently scheduled to fly to Jakarta later this weeks for talks with Mr. Natalegawa.

In a statement Sunday, the Cambodian government described Thai claims of recent Cambodian aggression as a “slanderous and false allegation, which is aimed at misleading the public opinion.”

Thani Thongpakdee, a spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Cambodian troops were to blame for the latest clashes. He said that Thailand was ready to accept Indonesian monitors, as long as they were unarmed and confined to specific border areas. However, he admitted that the current fighting was outside the designated areas.

“We still believe that having these observers in here is better than not having them and gives some kind of confidence to those living along the border,” he says.

The controversy over Preah Vihear, which was listed in 2008 as a World Heritage Site, dates back at least 50 years. In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia. Thai nationalists argue that this ruling was based on flawed French colonial-era maps and that it should be given to Thailand.

Thailand’s polarized politics may be stoking the current conflict, amid warnings of military meddling in a planned election in June or July. Some analysts believe that saber-rattling by Thailand’s military could be a tactic to delay the election and suppress the opposition, which is loyal to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Monday that he wanted to repair bilateral ties with Cambodia. “We don’t want it [the fighting] to escalate,” he said.
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