Thai and Cambodia troops clash again

Thai and Cambodia troops clash again
# 25 April 2011 21:27 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Thai and Cambodian troops clashed with guns and artillery on Monday after almost a full-day break in fighting that has killed at least 12 people in four days and sent nearly 50,000 into evacuation centers, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Gunfire and explosions were heard near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples, the scene of sporadic mortar and artillery bombardments since Friday in the bloodiest border conflict between the neighbors in nearly two decades.
The fresh fighting erupted before sundown on Monday and witnesses said the clashes were more fierce than the previous days, with the sound mortars heard as far as 40 km (25 miles) away.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya reiterated calls for a bilateral solution following the cancellation of a visit to both countries by a top Southeast Asian envoy who had brokered a U.N.-backed peace ceasefire deal on February 22.
But soon after the fighting resumed, Kasit accused Cambodia of being the "aggressor" in the conflict and said it was limiting scope for dialogue.
"It’s clear Cambodia was pushing into the (disputed) area and its now beyond talks as friendly neighbors," he told reporters in Bangkok on his return from a visit to an evacuee camp near the border.
He had earlier rejected Cambodian claims that Thailand had reneged on an agreement to allow unarmed Indonesian military observers after border battles that killed 11 troops near Preah Vihear, a temple about 150 km (90 miles) to the east.
At the center of the latest dispute are the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey Hindu temples in a heavily mined jungle area claimed by both sides. Thailand says the ancient ruins are in its Surin province but Cambodia insists they fall in its territory.
Fighting has been heaviest around Ta Moan, a complex that contains three temples nestled into a mountain pass. Both sides are also positioned around Ta Krabey, where fighting first erupted on Friday and where Cambodia has been accused of building military bases.
The official toll since Friday is five Thai soldiers killed and 31 wounded, and seven Cambodians killed and 17 wounded. No casualties were reported from Monday’s fighting.
Monday’s clashes continued late into the evening and came four hours after Thai F-16 fighter jets circled near the two temples in what Thai air force commander, Air Chief Marshall Itthaporn Subhawong, said was a training exercise.
"There was no intention to provoke," he told Reuters.
SETBACK FOR ASEAN
The Cambodian Defense Ministry had earlier said Thai shelling had "damaged the temples," without elaborating, and that civilian villages had been shelled about 20 km (12 miles) inside Cambodian territory. About 17,000 people had been evacuated, it said, and a school and 10 houses destroyed.
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said "some Thai nationals" were taken into custody for "spying." He did not provide details.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Thailand and Cambodia are members, had been expected to visit Thailand and Cambodia separately on Monday.
Although his trip was canceled, Natalegawa told reporters in Jakarta a trilateral meeting could still take place.
"The possibility is not closed for a direct meeting among the three of us," he said.
The conflict and fierce rhetoric from both sides has been a setback for ASEAN, a 10-member bloc modeled on the European Union that plans to become a regional community by 2015.
"Thailand and Cambodia have to show that they really want to promote diplomacy and not violence," said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yuhoyono.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged "serious dialogue" to produce an "effective and verifiable" ceasefire.
Although on the surface the renewed fighting appears to be a dispute over sovereignty, many experts are skeptical and suggest either government may have started the clashes to discredit the other or to appeal to nationalists at home.
Analysts also point to the Thai military’s desire for a continued stake in Thailand’s political apparatus and its intense dissatisfaction with opposition forces.
"Volatility at the border is an extension of volatility in Bangkok politics," said Karn Yuenyong, director of the independent Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
"The army has nothing to lose in a border clash. They show their relevance and show who is wielding the power. The border and sovereignty issues matter to a group of conservative elites and this is one way the Thai army exerts its loyalty."
Ban Nongkana, a village 7 km (4 miles) from Ta Moan, was almost deserted on Monday after three days of shelling that saw people scrambling for cover in makeshift bunkers.
Bomb disposal units collected unexploded munitions as dogs roamed dirt tracks and rustic wooden houses abandoned after troops urged people to leave, fearing another escalation.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said 30,000 Thais were being evacuated from border areas.
The dispute over jurisdiction has persisted since the 1950s, when colonial power France pulled out of Cambodia.
Cambodia says ceasefire monitors are the only way out of this round of conflict.
"Without a third-party observer, we will just point fingers at each other about who fired first," Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.
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