THAILAND AND CAMBODIA agreed on a cease-fire today after a week of fierce artillery duels across their contested border – which saw some of the worst fighting in years between the Southeast Asian neighbors.
Earlier in the morning, artillery fire boomed across the frontier and one rocket killed a Thai soldier, raising the one-week toll to 15.
Military commanders from both countries reached the deal after a 40-minute meeting at the border and agreed to reopen closed checkpoints, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said. “The news is a good news for every side,” he said.
Thai officials were more cautious, however. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed that Thailand’s Lt. Gen. Tawatchai Samutsakorn met his Cambodian counterpart Maj. Gen. Chea Mon and reached a tentative truce. “They have agreed on the cease-fire in principle,” Panitan said. But “we need to see whether this agreement will” hold.
Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, however, said no official deal had been agreed, but he welcomed the talks and called them a positive step.
The border dispute has stirred nationalist sentiment on both sides. But analysts say domestic politics may also be fueling the conflict, especially in Thailand, where the military that staged a coup in 2006 could be flexing its muscles ahead of elections due in June or July.
Speaking earlier in Cambodia, field commander Col. Suos Sothea said Thursday’s fighting had centered again around two crumbling stone temples from the Khmer Empire at Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, which have been caught in crossfire since last Friday.
The body of a Thai soldier who died in one rocket attack Thursday was loaded into a helicopter at a hospital in Phanom Dongrak, which was busy with wounded Thai soldiers arriving from the front.
On Wednesday, Cambodian leader Hun Sen accused Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of loving war and provoking the conflict, but said he still wants to talk peace with him at an upcoming regional meeting in Indonesia.
Cambodia employed truck-mounted rocket launchers for the first time Tuesday, in what Hun Sen said was retaliation for Thailand’s use of heavy weapons.
Abhisit, meanwhile, said his government is not willing to have a meeting of the two countries’ defence ministers unless there is a cease-fire first.
“If they want to talk, the easiest way is to stop the firing,” Abhisit told Parliament after visiting injured civilians in Surin province in the northeast.
The conflict involves small swaths of land along the border that have been disputed for more than half a century. Fierce clashes have broken out several times since 2008, when Cambodia’s 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given UN World Heritage status over Thailand’s objections.
Talks with Cambodia have apparently become divisive within the Thai government, with the military dragging its feet while Abhisit is more conciliatory.
The Thai army has already stymied a plan to station Indonesian military observers. Hun Sen says Cambodia would welcome them on its side of the border regardless of any delays by Thailand.
Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after four days of border fighting in February.