Preah Vihear: fragile cease-fire between Thai and Cambodian armies
Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Cambodia and Thailand today signed a cease-fire after two days of clashes that resulted in deaths and injuries. The two armies will not to deploy more troops in the border area around the temple of Preah Vihear - UNESCO World Heritage site and disputed by the two countries - and it will be the responsibility of military leaders to prevent further skirmishes in the future. However, the Cambodian government speaks of an "explosive" situation at the border, Bangkok responds that its soldiers intervened to defend its territorial sovereignty.
Yesterday, the overrunning of one of the two sides triggered a battle that lasted about two hours, the end result was a Cambodian soldier and a Thai civilian killed, 17 injured including 14 soldiers and three civilians. The fighting resumed this morning at 6.20 and caused the death of a Thai soldier and wounded four others. The battle ended about 40 minutes later, around 7 am.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thai prime minister, said that the soldiers were protecting national sovereignty, and vehemently denies the encroachment of its troops in Cambodian territory. Phnom Penh, however, denounces an "invasion" and appealed to the United Nations, noting that the growing tension around the temple of Preah Vihear could become "explosive". The story was also addressed by Secretary-General of ASEAN, an association that brings together 10 nations of Southeast Asia, of which Thailand and Cambodia are members. Surin Pitsuwan underlines that the escalation of tension on the border between the two countries undermines confidence in ASEAN and impedes the economic recovery, as well as slow down the tourism in the area and possible future investments.
The border dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh has been ongoing since 1962, when the International Court gave control of the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear ruins to Cambodia. The area where the temple stands is considered Cambodian territory, but is surrounded by steep cliffs covered with jungle that Thailand considers its own. In addition to the morphology of the territory the site is impossible to reach through Cambodia..
After years of negotiations, the dispute was rekindled in 2008 when UNESCO decided to transform the temple into a world heritage site, requiring Bangkok to allow access through its borders. In recent years there have been several clashes between the two armies deployed near the site. The last was in April 2009 and cost the lives of four Thai soldiers.