Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Soldier dead at border

Clash with Thailand in question


Military commanders and government officials gave conflicting statements yesterday over the death of a Cambodian soldier and the injury of another at the Thai border late last week.

A military commander stationed at the border in Oddar Meanchey province said the casualties resulted from a clash between Cambodian and Thai soldiers on Thursday afternoon, just ahead of a scheduled meeting between officers on both sides.

Cambodian and Thai commanders have been meeting regularly along the border after deadly clashes near Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, about 150 kilometres from Preah Vihear temple, came to an end in early May.

Pok Sophal, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander for Oddar Meanchey’s Trapaing Prasat district, about 100 kilometres from the Preah Vihear temple, claimed that Thai soldiers had opened fire on the soldiers.

“We had an appointment for the meeting [between Cambodian and Thai soldiers], and when we were walking, they opened fire at our soldiers,” he said. “They were already prepared to intentionally open fire at us in advance.”

Spokesmen for the Thai army and Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, yesterday said government officials were still investigating the issue, but that reports of an armed clash were “not accurate”.

“Officially, [there was] no confrontation between Cambodian soldiers and Thai soldiers. The casualty that happened was not involved with an armed clash at all,” he said. “The situation on the border is calm, and both sides, they build confidence.”

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said in an email yesterday that the incident “shows that the situation is still fragile, volatile and precarious” despite a ruling last week from the International Court of Justice that created a demilitarised zone surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

“There is still anger especially on the part of the Thai side. Remember that the Abhisit government has not actually gone. The ICJ verdict upset most of the Democrats’ supporters including the military and the PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy]. There are reasons why the clashes broke out again,” Pavin said.

“To be cynical, the [Thai] security forces did show that they did not want to withdraw, and perhaps they wanted to challenge the new government in its handling of the issue.”

Meanwhile, Phay Siphan said that Cambodia had yet to hear from Thailand on a proposal by Prime Minister Hun Sen for a joint withdrawal of forces near the Preah Vihear temple.

In its decision last week, the ICJ created a provisional demilitarised zone surrounding the temple and ordered both sides to “immediately” remove all military personnel from the area. It also ordered the two countries to allow neutral observers from Indonesia into the area to monitor a ceasefire and said Thailand should not prevent Cambodia’s civilian access to the temple.

Hun Sen said at a press conference on Friday that the government had sent a seven-point proposal for implementing the court’s decision to Thailand, Indonesia, the ICJ and the United Nations Security Council on Thursday.

The proposal, copies of which were made available to the press, states that both sides will inform the ICJ of military positions and non-military activities in the demilitarised zone and then work with Indonesian observer teams to mark off the area.

The two countries would then draw up a timetable for the withdrawal of all military forces.

The agreement would not prejudice the work of bilateral bodies set up to demarcate the border and ensure its security, and a separate agreement would still be required to set out the responsibilities of the observers.

While the initial observer proposal had envisioned 15 Indonesians on each side, Hun Sen said on Friday that more would be needed because of size of the area and the range of concerns.

“Cambodia and Thailand will need to discuss how to deploy the police to ensure security at the demilitarised zone to prevent illegal logging, drug trafficking and other crimes,” he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA