Thai-Cambodian border quiet as two sides meet

October 16th, 2008 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Oct 16 (DPA) The Thai government Thursday rebuffed a Cambodian claim that it was an unreliable and biased chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as the two sides are locked in a bitter border dispute.Foreign ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said other members of the 10-country body would understand Thailand’s restraint and probity on the issue.

Two Cambodian soldiers were reportedly killed in an exchange of gunfire and 10 Thai soldiers allegedly captured Wednesday afternoon after the two countries accused each other of stepping over previously agreed lines around a 900-year-old Hindu temple, ownership of which has been disputed for decades.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Wednesday that his country had been forced to bypass Asean in seeking an impartial mediator because Thailand was currently in the chair, which is held by rotation.

He accused Thailand of provoking Wednesday’s brief firefight about three kilometres from Preah Vihear temple.

Thailand’s troubled government, under siege by opponents who accuse it of corruption and undermining the monarchy, is scheduled to host Asean’s annual meeting in December.

Hor Namhong hinted the association chair might be taken away from Thailand. Cambodia last month said Thailand’s political instability and bias might make it an unsuitable chair.

Tharit said that Thailand had overwhelming military superiority but had nevertheless acted in a sober and responsible manner. The 40-year-old organisation surely did not expect its members to agree on everything, he added.

Foreign diplomats eyeing the spat said the Thai government is under intense pressure to flaunt its patriotic credentials to blunt the claims of its opponents who claim it is a puppet of the controversial exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Cambodian government is similarly steeped in prickly nationalist rhetoric under the rule of its authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the diplomats added.

The border conflict was calmed in August when both sides agreed to settle the matter through bilateral talks held by a joint border committee, but those talks have since stalled amid Thailand’s chaotic domestic political situation.

The Thai foreign ministry this week urged Thais to leave Cambodia for fear of a repeat of riots in 2003 that saw the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh burnt down in a nationalist upsurge triggered by alleged insults made by a Thai actress about Cambodia.

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