Cambodian soldiers standing guard at border with Thailand (AFP/Getty Images)
The latest flare-up in a long-standing territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia has resulted in the deaths of at least 15 people and displaced tens of thousands during a week’s worth of fighting.
But now military negotiators from the two countries have agreed to a ceasefire, ending the battle at their border near two disputed 12th century Hindu temples.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement Monday expressing concern over the clashes. “We strongly urge both sides to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative acts, and immediately take all necessary steps to reduce tensions and avoid further conflict. The loss of life, displacement of civilians, and damage to property is regrettable,” she said.
Both sides and some analysts have said political motivations spurred the fighting, reported Patrick Winn, GlobalPost’s Thailand correspondent, from Bangkok.
Some political analysts in Bangkok speculated that the dispute at the border was an attempt to create a national crisis so that the military could have a pretext for cancelling Thai elections — set for early July — if they thought that their favored party, the ruling party, might lose to the opposition, Winn told us by telephone. An opposition win would bring back former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a military coup in 2006.
The ruling party “would be really badly hurt if they had lost Thai territory right before a national election,” said Winn.
Also, some on the Thai side speculated that the prime minister needed his son, who attended West Point and is now a two-star general, to emerge as a national hero and succeed his father, Winn said.
But while the Western media included the political machinations in their reporting on the conflict, the Thai press did not. Thai newspapers and broadcasts offered more of a blow-by-blow account of the fighting at the border, said Winn. “You’ll see pictures of Thai soldiers, shot and carried away on stretchers. Any of this speculation about the election being delayed is being addressed in the Thai press differently. It’s not given nearly as much credence.”
Every time fighting flared up over the past week, each side accused the other of firing the first shot, said Winn. Indonesia offered to provide observers at the border, an arrangement Cambodia accepted but Thailand did not.
The relationship between Thailand and Cambodia has a troubled history, including trying to seize each other’s territory over the centuries, said Winn. In the current conflict, neither side wanted to be seen by its citizens as losing ground, he added.