Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cambodia PM welcomes talks after Thai border clashes

Reuters – A Thai army tank drives down a road near the disputed border area between Cambodia and Thailand in Surin …
A Thai army tank drives down a road near the disputed border area between Cambodia and Thailand in Surin provincePHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offered Wednesday to meet one-on-one with his Thai counterpart after six days of sporadic fighting that has killed at least 14 people, raising hopes of a ceasefire in Southeast Asia's bloodiest border dispute in years.
Both sides remained on high alert near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples following a night of shelling that killed a Thai villager and exchanges of heavy artillery that began before dawn and lasted several hours.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his first public comments on the conflict, called Thailand's premier a "thief" whose government committed "terrorism," but said he was willing to discuss clashes at the two temples in one-on-one talks.
"Cambodia wants to solve the issue peacefully with talks," Hun Sen, a fiery orator and former soldier, said in a speech, adding he would raise the issue with Abhisit and other Southeast Asian leaders during a summit in Indonesia on May 7-8.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would welcome talks if Cambodia "ends the use of violence."
"If they want talks, the easiest thing to do would be to stop the attacks and return to talks within the framework that already exists," Abhisit told parliament.
The fighting has killed eight Cambodian and five Thai soldiers, and one Thai civilian. More than 60,000 people have taken refuge in emergency evacuation centers.
A meeting between Thai and Cambodian defense ministers expected Wednesday was abruptly canceled after Cambodian media reports suggested Thailand had admitted defeat, said Thai Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.
Sovereignty over the ancient, stone-walled Hindu temples -- Preah Vihear, Ta Moan and Ta Krabey -- and the jungle of the Dangrek Mountains surrounding them has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in the 1950s.
But many experts say the fighting is fueled more by political interests than territorial claims, as each government seeks to discredit the other by appealing to nationalists at home, especially ahead of a Thai election due by July.
A change in government could be in Cambodia's interests.
Analysts said the Thai military could also be flexing its muscles to preserve its sizeable stake in Thailand's political apparatus and to satisfy conservative elites at odds with the country's powerful opposition forces.
Thailand says it wants a bilateral solution, while Cambodia has sought international mediation and the deployment of independent monitors in the disputed area as agreed by Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in Jakarta in February.
Those differences are posing a major test for ASEAN, a 10-member bloc with ambitions to become a regional community by 2015 and a viable counterweight to China's growing clout.
It is also a potential embarrassment for Indonesia, whose foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, had brokered the U.N.-backed ceasefire pact in February that would have placed unarmed Indonesian military observers along the disputed border.
The Thai army objected and the deal never went through.
Thailand's foreign minister is due to meet with Natalegawa Thursday in Jakarta.
(Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok and Sukree Sukplang in Surin. Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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