Thailand-Cambodia clashes continue, but Bangkok insists mediation 'not necessary'

Calls for intervention have met firm rejections from Bangkok, even as Thailand-Cambodia clashes that have already killed 10 people continued into their fourth day.

AP Photo
A Thai man walks though a bomb crater near Sisaket, Thailand, near the border with Cambodia, Monday, Feb. 7. Troops of Cambodia and Thailand continue to clash near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, a world Heritage site on the Cambodian side of the border.

As fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops along a disputed land border entered a fourth day, Indonesia’s foreign minister flew Monday to Cambodia for crisis talks. At least 10 people have died since clashes began Friday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of villagers on both sides of the border.

While the US and other countries have urged restraint by both sides, Cambodia has asked the United Nations to act over what it calls “flagrant aggression” by Thailand. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a separate statement that he was “deeply concerned” by the violence and that the UN stood ready to assist.

But calls for outside intervention have been met with firm rejections by Thailand, which has repeatedly insisted that bilateral talks are the best way to resolve the crisis. “We feel that mediation by outside parties is not necessary,” says Thani Thongpakdi, a spokesman for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry.

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Indonesia holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which both Thailand and Cambodia are members. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa met Monday with his Cambodian counterpart and is scheduled to arrive in Bangkok on Tuesday for similar talks. Mr. Thani described the visit as a fact-finding mission.

ASEAN’s secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan, a former Thai foreign minister, has urged the rival armies to calm tensions and warned that instability could affect member economies. In a statement on Saturday, he offered to help broker a temporary truce.

But ASEAN is unlikely to play a proactive role in resolving this or other bilateral disputes, even if Thailand shifted its position, say analysts and diplomats. The organization lacks any mechanism for mediation or monitoring ceasefires and has long shied away from sensitive issues that could divide its members, who range from democracies to dictatorships.

“It’s toothless and it doesn’t have much influence, either officially or unofficially, so it won’t play a role,” says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok.

The latest Thai-Cambodian border clashes are among the most serious since 2008, when Preah Vihear, an 11th century Khmer temple, became a nationalist rallying cry for both countries. Cambodia, which won sovereignty over the temple in 1962, successfully sought its listing by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2008, angering Thai nationalists who said the surrounding area belonged to Thailand. Troop buildups on both sides have since choked off tourist arrivals to the temple.

Thai nationalists have accused Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of failing to enforce Thai claims along the border. Thousands of protesters have camped out in central Bangkok calling for his resignation and pressing for the return of two Thai nationalists jailed in Cambodia after being convicted last week for illegal entry and spying. Analysts say it’s unclear if the clashes will boost the protests, which have so far failed to attract large crowds.

Cambodia said Sunday that Thai artillery shells had damaged part of the temple, contemporaneous with the better-known Angkor Wat temple complex some 150 miles southwest. Both sides have accused each other of sparking the conflict. In its letter to the UN Security Council, Cambodia accused Thai troops of staging a raid into Cambodian territory on Friday.

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