Home > Local News > Thai villagers trickle home after Cambodia clashes

Thai villagers trickle home after Cambodia clashes

KANTHARALAK, Thailand, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Thai villagers began
trickling back to their homes near a disputed stretch of the border
with Cambodia on Thursday in a sign of easing tension after deadly
clashes over an ancient temple.
A villager rides a motorcycle past Thai army tanks in Sri Sak Ket province February 9, 2011. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplan
But both Thai and Cambodian forces remained on alert a day after
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said the four days of fighting that
began last Friday constituted “war”.
Both sides have promised maximum restraint and deny beefing-up their
forces, but witnesses on the Thai side saw tanks, armoured vehicles and
fighter jets on the move.
Thailand and Cambodia blame each other for the clashes near the
900-year-old Preah Vihear temple that killed at least three Thais and
eight Cambodians. At least 34 Thais and 55 Cambodians were wounded,
according to statements from both sides.
The temple ruins, perched on a cliff overlooking the north Cambodian
plain, have been a thorn in the side of relations between the
neighbours since the 1950s.
The issue has blown up in recent years partly because of bitter
divisions in domestic Thai politics with a pro-establishment “yellow
shirt” activist movement whipping up nationalist feelings.
The governor of Thailand’s Si Sa Ket province, Somsak Suvarnsujarit,
said several thousand villagers had left temporary shelters and
returned home.
“Many of those who come from villages further from the fighting
range opted to go back,” Somsak said, adding that in all, about 21,000
villagers had left their homes.
“Those in the villages right next to the scene of fighting were
asked to stay back until it is really safe. For now, the situation
remains uncertain and we have not got the all clear from the army.”
In Cambodia’s northern frontier areas, schools and temples have been turned into shelters for several thousand displaced people.
The Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers are heading to New York
where they are due to present their cases to the U.N. Security Council
on Monday.
ROUTINE EXERCISES
Hun Sen, in a speech in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, ruled out bilateral
talks with Thailand saying the Thais could not be trusted. He said
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was guilty of war crimes and called
him a “cheat”.
“This is war,” he said.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya also cast diplomacy aside, calling Hun Sen a “naughty boy”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu on Thursday called for
calm and a peaceful resolution, saying Beijing has maintained close
contact with both Cambodia and Thailand.
“China calls for both parties to maintain calm and restraint and
avoid an escalation of the situation,” Ma told reporters in Beijing.
Though the guns have been silent for three days and attention is
turning to diplomatic efforts to restore calm, more forces have been
heading to the area and witnesses spotted two Thai F-16 fighter jets
flying within 10 km (6.2 miles) of Preah Vihear, for about 30 minutes.
The Thai air force said it was a routine exercise.
“We are not flexing muscles or provoking anyone,” a spokesman said. “It was a regular air patrol.”
Several Thai army tanks and other armoured vehicles were heading
towards the area on Thursday, a witness said, a day after Thailand
moved up about 20 tanks.
Thai army officials said the tanks were not reinforcing in the area, but the message to Cambodia was clear.
Still, the reasons behind the fighting are unknown.
Some analysts say hawkish Thai generals and nationalist allies may
be trying to create a crisis that would bring down Thailand’s
government or create a pretext to stage a coup and cancel elections
expected this year.
Others say it may be a breakdown in communication at a time of
strained relations over Cambodia’s flying of a national flag in the
disputed area and laying of a stone tablet inscribed with “Here is
Cambodia”.
Thailand and Cambodia are both members of the ASEAN regional
grouping which plans to form a European-style single market by 2015.
The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations has urged
bilateral talks.
The temple, known as Preah Vihear, or “Mountain of the Sacred
Temple”, in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, sits on a
triangular wedge of plateau on an escarpment that forms a natural
border.
Both sides have been locked in a standoff since July 2008, when
Preah Vihear was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, which Thailand
opposed on grounds that territory around the temple had never been
demarcated.
The International Court of Justice in 1962 awarded the temple to
Cambodia, which uses a century-old French map as the basis for its
territorial claims. But the ruling failed to determine ownership of the
scrub next to it. (Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok, and
Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Robert Birsel;
Editing by Martin Petty and Yoko Nishikawa)
Source: reuters
// Reuters 
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Categories: Local News
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