Friday, April 29, 2011

A Thai soldier inspects the remains of a Grad rocket following an exchange of fire between Thai and Cambodian forces across the border at Phanom Dong Rak district in Surin province.
(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)
BANGKOK, April 29 (UPI) -- One Thai soldier died in renewed fighting on the border after the collapse of a cease-fire that had lasted only several hours, between Thailand and Cambodia.
The fighting marked the eighth consecutive day soldiers of both countries exchanged small arms fire and artillery shells near their respective positions.
One of the main areas in the dispute is around the 900-year-old Preah Vihear, since 2008 a World Heritage site, in the Dangrek Mountains on the Thai-Cambodia border 300 miles east of Bangkok.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple was on Cambodian land but some access to the mountaintop site passes through Thai territory, a route that Thai troops occasionally seal off.
Fighting has flared in the area within the past several years, notably in October 2008 when two Cambodian troops died and seven Thai troops were wounded in an hourlong gun battle.
The latest series of clashes began in February and the fighting has been condemned by the United Nations and the regional Association of South East Asian Nations, to which Thailand and Cambodia belong.
Thai and Cambodian field commanders agreed to a cease-fire Thursday but later in the day shots could be heard near the border.
Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd confirmed the renewed fighting, saying Cambodia's "local units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did."
Cambodia reportedly blames Thai soldiers for breaking the cease-fire near Preah and other areas including Ta Krabey temple along the remote and rugged border where the frontier is sometimes ill-defined.
"We cannot trust the Thais," Cambodian Col. Suos Sothea told news agencies. "Yesterday they said they'd stop fighting and now they are attacking us again."
The Phanom Dongrak hospital, within Thailand and around 12 miles from border, said 16 Thai soldiers have died since fighting started in February.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement this week that Washington was "deeply concerned" by the fighting on the border. "We strongly urge both sides to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative acts and immediately take all necessary steps to reduce tensions and avoid further conflict," she said.
U.N. troops will be sent to the area only after both sides agree to a truce that would allows the United Nations to monitor the cease-fire.
As fighting continues, the local population on both sides increasingly is fleeing the area, the United Nations' humanitarian news agency IRIN reports. Cambodian officials said as many as 10,000 people were forced to relocate to temporary shelters and Thai authorities claim 26,000 on their side were evacuated.
Human rights agencies have expressed concerned about reported use of cluster bombs.
Based on two separate on-site investigations, the Cluster Munition Coalition said Thailand used cluster bombs on Cambodian territory in February. "Thai officials confirmed the use of cluster munitions in a meeting with the CMC on 5 April", a report on the CMC Web site said.
"This is the first use of cluster munitions anywhere in the world since the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force and became binding international law," the CMC report said.
"It's appalling that any country would resort to using cluster munitions after the international community banned them," Laura Cheeseman, director of the CMC, said. "Thailand has been a leader in the global ban on anti-personnel mines and it is unconscionable that it used banned weapons that indiscriminately kill and injure civilians in a similar manner."
CMC said Thailand's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva confirmed Thailand used 155mm dual purpose improved conventional munition cluster bombs "in self-defense" out of "necessity, proportionality and in compliance with the military code of conduct."
The Thai ambassador also alleged heavy use of rocket fire by Cambodian forces against civilian targets in Satisuk, in the Khun Khan district of Thailand, CMC said.


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