Prime Minister Hun Sen called today for the United Nations to send peacekeepers to the Thai-Cambodian border near Preah Vihear temple, where at least seven people have been killed in clashes over the past few days.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, the premier repeated his plea for third party mediation, saying the conflict was in danger of spiraling out of control.
“We have sent [peacekeepers] to Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic and Lebanon, but now we would like the UN to establish a buffer zone so that we can avoid fighting with each other,” Hun Sen said. “Even in a boxing arena, they need a referee.”
The prime minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong have both written to the UN within the past few days appealing for intervention in the escalating conflict.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country now holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, arrived in Phnom Penh yesterday to meet with Hor Namhong, and was also set to meet with senior officials in Bangkok.
Hun Sen said Cambodia “welcomes the urgent intervention of ASEAN” in the conflict and urged Thailand to accept it.
“Please do not fear the third party, either ASEAN, the United Nations or others,” Hun Sen said. “Please do not fear the police, for the person who is not a thief does not fear the police.”
Hor Namhong said yesterday that he planned to travel to New York in the near future to explain the situation at the United Nations.
Thai officials, however, have consistently rejected calls for outside mediation, claiming the dispute can be resolved between the two countries. Abhisit said yesterday that the Joint Border Committee, the bilateral body through which Thailand and Cambodia are now demarcating their shared border, should be sufficient to handle the issue, Thai state media reported.
Natelegawa noted that border conflicts were common within ASEAN, but added that it was unfortunate that regional countries had allowed the situation between Thailand and Cambodia “to degenerate in this way”.
“There is no more place for use of force and military means in resolving problems or challenges among ASEAN countries,” he said.
“This is an issue that will be resolved by the two countries concerned, but there is also room for other countries to help create a climate conducive for resolution of the problem through bilateral means.”
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who visited the Kingdom in October, has voiced concern over the recent clashes, calling for the two sides to “exercise restraint and resolve their dispute through dialogue”.
“The Secretary-General appeals to both sides to put in place an effective arrangement for cessation of hostilities and to exercise maximum restraint,” Ban’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
The two sides have blamed one another for touching off clashes that began on Friday and resumed for a fourth straight day yesterday.
Tensions in the area have been heightened since 2008, when Preah Vihear temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia over Thai objections. Thailand subsequently concentrated troops in the area, with Cambodia following suit, as the sides continued to disagree over the sovereignty of territory surrounding the temple.
UNESCO director general Irina Bokova expressed “distress” on Sunday regarding the battles near the 11th century site, calling in a statement for the two sides to “exercise restraint for the sake of the preservation of the Temple of Preah Vihear”.
Chan Chhorn, director of information for the Preah Vihear National Authority, said yesterday that a Thai rocket had crashed into a wing of the temple and had significantly damaged it.
Small arms fire and artillery also caused surface level damage to the temple staircase and other portions of the exterior, he added. Sun Saing, abbot of Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, which sits adjacent to the temple, said the pagoda’s charity hall and monks’ quarters were also damaged.
“There has been huge damage to the temple,” Chan Chhorn said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA AND JAMES O’TOOLE