AN international anti-cluster munitions group says it has confirmed that Thailand deployed the notorious weapons against Cambodia during clashes at the countries’ border near Preah Vihear temple in February, calling their use “appalling” and “unconscionable”.
The United Kingdom-based Cluster Munitions Coalition said in a statement the incident was “the first use of cluster munitions anywhere in the world since the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force and became binding international law”.
It called on Thailand to provide further information about the number of munitions that were used and where they were launched, and said both countries should sign the treaty banning the weapons.
The use of cluster munitions has been internationally condemned because of their long-term consequences for civilian populations.
Multiple bomblets are contained inside cluster munitions shells, which are launched from the ground or dropped from the air and split open before impact, scattering bomblets across a wide area.
These bomblets often lie dormant for years before exploding, leaving behind lasting threats to civilians.
A total of 108 countries have signed, and 55 have ratified, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, transfer and stockpiling of the weapons.
CMC has found cluster munitions in five affected areas of the Kingdom while the Cambodian Mine Action Centre has identified another seven contaminated areas across a 300-square-kilometre area.
Cambodian officials have said since February that Thailand used the weapons during the border clashes, but Thai officials had said in fact Cambodia had launched them into Thai territory.
CMC said yesterday that Sihasak Phuangketkeow, the Thai ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, had admitted this week that the Thai military used 155mm Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions, a kind of cluster bomb, during the fighting.
Sihasak said Thailand had used cluster munitions “in self-defence”, using the principles of “necessity, proportionality and in compliance with the military code of conduct”, according to the CMC statement.
“It’s appalling that any country would resort to using cluster munitions after the international community banned them,” Laura Cheeseman, CMC director, said in the statement.
“Thailand has been a leader in the global ban on antipersonnel mines, and it is unconscionable that it used banned weapons that indiscriminately kill and injure civilians in a similar manner,” she said. Sihasak, the Thai UN ambassador, claimed that Cambodia had used heavy rocket fire against civilians in Satisuk, in Thailand’s Khun Khan district, according to CMC.
Cheeseman said in an email yesterday that CMC has “not ruled out possible use of cluster munitions by Cambodia, but we understand from meetings with Thai officials in Bangkok that there are not longer [such allegations].”
Members of the CMC conducted two on-site investigations, one on February 12 and another from April 1 to 2, and concluded that Thailand had launched the weapons into Cambodian territory during clashes that lasted from February 4 to 7 and left at least 10 dead. Two policemen died while another eight were injured on February 6 when an unexploded bomblet detonated in the hand of one of the policemen in Preah Vihear province’s Svay Chrum village.
Heng Rattana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said yesterday that 12 different areas had been “heavily affected”, but he did not yet know how many munitions were used or how long it would take to clear the area.
CMAC will begin a comprehensive survey of the area on April 20, Heng Rattana said, and commit 50 staff to removal efforts.
“There is a real humanitarian crisis while [these] munitions were used,” Heng Rattana said. “We need to take immediate action.”
He called on Thailand to provide further information about where the shells were launched, and said the international community should “pressure” Thailand and provide assistance to Cambodian entities clearing the area.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn would not confirm yesterday that the Thai army had used cluster munitions.
He said the government was “in the process of confirming” what Sihasak had said.
“But secondly, we have been told by the military that they have sent a specific name of the weapons that they used during the clashes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Panitan said, but declined to say the name of the weapons used.
“I have the name but we have to verify it with the ministry,” he said. Thai officials in Geneva could not be reached for comment.
Panitan said the government believed that the military had followed “normal procedures” in the skirmishes in an area that is under martial law.
“This is declared a martial law area,” he said. “We have specific guidelines [that] the military [has] to follow and we believe that so far they have followed the guidelines that have been established by the government.”
Cheeseman said, however, that the evidence against Thailand was “conclusive”.
“Now that we have conclusive evidence of Thailand’s use of cluster munitions and confirmation by the Thai mission in Geneva of the exact types of weapons used, we are publicly sharing the information,” Cheeseman said in an email from the UK yesterday.
Denise Coughlan, director of Jesuit Refugee Services and spokesperson for the Cambodian Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions, said yesterday it was essential that the area be cleared before the onset of the wet season and called on Thailand to provide further information. “Thailand needs to give the information on the extent and number of how many submunitions [were used],” she said.