The Thai defense minister has ordered provincial army commanders to renew talks with their Cambodian counterparts in efforts to end four days of cross border fighting near an ancient 11th century Hindu temple.
Cambodian armed forces protecting the Preah Vihear temple
Sporadic firing was reported late Monday near the disputed area surrounding the 900-year-old Hindu Preah Vihear temple between Thailand and Cambodia. Both countries have long disputed ownership of the temple, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. In 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled that Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia. But surrounding areas remain in dispute.
The fighting began Friday and continued around the area. The shelling has left at least five people dead and more than a score of soldiers wounded. Thousands of residents on both sides of the border have been forced to flee their homes.
Cambodian and Thai troops resumed an artillery duel near Preah Vihear on February 5, 2011, ignoring a cease-fire
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Monday said he wanted United Nations peacekeepers sent to the region, according to Hang Chayya, a director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy in Phnom Penh. Hang Chayya said, the Cambodian "Hun Sen government did write to the UN, asking for some intervention or assistance in stopping this."
Who started it?
A Cambodian commander was reported in news media in Phnom Penh saying there had been heavy artillery and rocket fire close to the temple. He said several Thai rocket shells had hit targets deep in Cambodian territory.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in a separate letter to the UN Security Council, rejected allegations by Cambodia that Thailand initiated the attacks, protesting "in the strongest terms" against what the prime minister called a violation of Thailand’s sovereignty and attacks on Thai civilians.
Many people living on both sides of the border have been forced to flee their homes
Thai Government spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, said the government will do all it can to protect its citizens; "We are committed to protecting our territory and the lives of the Thai people. We have no intention to do otherwise." He added the Thai troops fired several warning shots in the direction from which shots had previously been fired. Both sides must show restraint
Regional countries have called for both governments to show restraint. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also offered to mediate. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for both countries to find a solution "through established mechanisms."
The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia
But Panitan said Thailand would press on with bilateral talks to end the conflict. "We understand the concerns of the international community." Panitan added, "We welcome their suggestion but we stand ready to work with Cambodia bilaterally to make sure that these problems are solved peacefully."
Analysts say the fighting marks a setback in efforts by ASEAN to create a broader security community. Anti-government pro-nationalist groups protesting in Bangkok have called on Prime Minister Abhisit to resign over his government’s handling of the issue. Abhisit has rejected such calls.
Author: Ron Corben (Bangkok)
Editor: Sarah Berning