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Which one is Thai, Which one is Cambodian?

Villagers on both sides are suffering _ and if claims that cluster
bombs were deployed prove true, then the pain could be felt for years
to come

Two weeks after the shelling began, life has yet to return to normal in
Svay Chrum village, four kilometres south of the frontline on the
Cambodian side of the border dispute.

FELLOW SUFFERERS: Rany and her child, left; and a Thai woman in Si Sa Ket province
Dwellings sit empty, leaving evidence of a quick departure along with clothes hanging on fences and abandoned bicycles.
There were 250 families in this area; now there are five, said
shopkeeper Rany who came back two days after her home was nearly hit by
conventional artillery on Feb 7.
”We are the risk-takers, the people who have property to protect. I
hear from the camps that everyone wants to come back, but they are
still afraid of the situation here,” she said.
There are still people in Svay Chrum, in Chuam Khsan district of Preah Vihear province, but most of them are in uniform.
Soldiers either walk or catch a ride down the mountain to buy
supplies and maybe get a drink at one of the two places that serve them.
Some of the Cambodian troops live only 50m from the Thai troops, and relish the opportunity to take a break.
For women like Rany, her concerns are more mundane than those of the politicians and generals in Phnom Penh and Bangkok.
”It was announced on Feb 3 that we must register our property. Then
the war started the next day. I had to come back because I was afraid
somebody would take my inventory and my house. At least if I stay here
nobody will take it apart,” she said.
On the Thai side of the border, the uncertainty for villagers is just as real.
Si Sa Ket Governor Somsak Suwansujarit has announced construction
will start tomorrow of 450 bunkers in Kantharalak district and repairs
of 300 others damaged during four days of fighting which started on Feb
4.
Tens of thousands of Thai villagers fled their homes during the
height of fighting as Cambodian troops fired artillery into the area.
Rachanee Phongsin, a Kantharalak villager, said she still hears the
sound of firing from time to time and fears the artillery and mortar
shells could strike her village again.
Samroeng Charoenchan, from Phum Srol village, said he was happy when
authorities allowed villagers to return home a week after being
evacuated.
However, villagers were still worried about attacks after several homes were damaged and one person killed.
”The sound of bombs at night flying over my head scared me very
much, I can still remember it,” said Tat Kanchanachart, from Ban
Somboon in Kantharalak district.
Kim Samnang, who lost his forearm; and what is believed to be a cluster
bomb, found near Svay Chrum village. (Photos by Hurley Scroggins)
Aside from anxiety about returning to a potential war-zone, displaced people now face a new fear.
Cambodia has accused Thailand of firing an unknown number of shells
carrying cluster munitions into Cambodia. Thailand strongly rejects the
claim. Neither country has signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Ironically, Cambodia, which was one of the leaders on the convention
to ban cluster mines, backed out of signing it in December 2008 citing
the Preah Vihear border conflict.

Cambodia argued it was in no
rush to sign, as Thailand was not yet a signatory. Cluster bombs are
considered a major threat to civilian populations as they spread across
a large area and can lay dormant for long periods of time.

“My base was shelled between 3:15-4:10pm on Feb 4,” said Lt Col Sok Min of the Cambodian border police in Svay Chrum.

“I
was standing at the gate looking at the mountain and I heard the sound
of a bomb approaching, and made it just in time to the bunker.

“The only thing I could hear was BOOM, pop, pop, pop — like popcorn — and all I could see was smoke.”

Border
policeman Kim Samnang said the bombs were distinctive by their sound.
“I suspected there was something different when I heard the
pop-pop-pop,” he said. “I had heard about bomblets [cluster munitions]
in other provinces.

“At 6pm the next day, we turned on the generator to pump water and decided to watch the Sunday boxing.

“Someone came in with this thing with a white string and I put my hand up and told him to put it down,” he said.

Policeman Cheng Mol put it on the table and it exploded — killing two, and injuring eight.

Samnang and Mol both lost forearms. They now share a ward at Siem Reap provincial hospital.

“I
was injured by cluster munitions,” Samnang told the Bangkok Post Sunday
“Two days ago, an NGO showed us a photo. It had slightly different
colouring, but it’s the same kind of bomblet. It looked like a cow bell
or something,” Mol said.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) arrived on the scene the morning after the explosion.

“I
had never seen anything like them before, they’re not like the American
War bomblets,” said Saem Ponnreay, CMAC Demining Unit 3 manager.

“People
were playing with the things, spinning them in the air by their cords.
We sent photos to headquarters and they confirmed that they were M42/46
submunitions.

“We had recently cleared this area. Now we have to come back.”

CMAC
issued a statement on Feb 10 claiming that: “During the crossfire there
[was] identified evidence of heavy artilleries such as 105mm, 130mm and
155mm used by Thai military, and CMAC experts have confirmed that these
artilleries contained cluster munitions including M35, M42 and M46
types.”

Cluster Munition Coalition member Sister Denise Coughlin
surveyed the situation this week. “I am saddened by the suffering and
displacement of people from both sides of the border. I witnessed with
my own eyes, cluster munitions on the ground,” she said.

“I have also spoken to the victims who identified the M46 as the munition that injured them.

“The
use of cluster bombs causes devastating consequences years after the
conflict. A friend of mine lost both his arms in 2004, from cluster
munitions left over from the 70s.

“I dont want that to happen to anyone else.”

In
a statement issued on Feb 10, the coalition, which represents 350 civil
groups worldwide, asked both Thailand and Cambodia to clarify whether
their armies had used cluster munitions in the recent conflict.

According
to the coalition, both countries have stockpiles of cluster munitions,
but little is known about their status or composition.

Cambodia
has cited an ongoing review of its defence and security situation as
the reason for its delay in joining the treaty, while Thailand says it
has concerns over its ability to destroy its stockpile although it has
said previously it would not use the weapons.

CMAC faces a huge
task, even if the fighting stops tomorrow. “We don’t know how many
shells landed around here. Some could have fallen in unpopulated areas.
There are 72 bomblets in every shell,” Ponnreay said.

“Before we
can let civilians back in, we need to educate them. We have reached
4,000 families in the camps and told them not to touch them, and to
call our hotlines if they see one.”

When he appeared before the
UN Security Council on Monday, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya
categorically denied “the groundless accusation by Cambodia that
Thailand used cluster munitions during the recent skirmishes”.

Mr Kasit added that Thailand has been actively supporting disarmament efforts, including the elimination of cluster munitions.

“We
are seriously considering joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions,”
he said. The army also strongly denied the Cambodian cluster bomb
allegation.

Bangkok Post
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Categories: Local News
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