Thai and Cambodian troops clashed with heavy artillery for a sixth straight day on Wednesday near two disputed 12th-century Hindu temples at the border. The recent fights killed at least 14 people and more than 50,000 have been evacuated from their homes during the clashes.
Cease fire talks have been cancelled and most people are confused why this conflict is continuously flaring up.
Spokesmen from both countries as well as most media outlets explain the conflict as a border dispute. There are different maps, different historical standpoints and cultural views on it. Earlier in February there have been heavy clashes at the Preah Vihear Temple and ASEAN was looking for an immediate solution by peace talks.
There have been many peace talks initiated by the UN or neighboring countries before. The last bilateral talks in Indonesia have been stated as “unfruitful” – the original plan was to start the mapping process of the border region but the result was the plan of deploying Indonesian unarmed observers at the border region. None of these observers are at the border right now and it seems that this plan was cancelled.
So why do we have all these peace talks, pressure from the international community & ASEAN and nothing happens?
There might be more than meets the eye. Besides territory arguments there could be a political interests on both sides of the ASEAN countries to continue this war. The Thai and Cambodian Governments have been in a tense position in the last years. Especially in Thailand a lot of changes are expected with the upcoming house dissolution and the new election which is scheduled for July. A lot of Thais think that the border conflicts are delaying the elections, even though Deputy Prime Minister Suthep and other spokesmen stated that the election plans are not changed.
Another factor in the conflict is also the more or less independent Thai military which is still one of the biggest military powers in South East Asia. The Independent wrote:
Duncan McCargo, professor of South-east Asian politics at the University of Leeds, suggested that the border dispute was essentially the result of an ongoing struggle between Thailand’s military, its foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s office. “In the past, the Thai army has always demanded the right to pursue an independent foreign policy to advance its own ends. By prosecuting this bizarre and pointless border war, the military is trying to present itself as the true guardian of the national interest, seizing the moral high ground from civilian politicians,” he said. “However, the conflict is further eroding Thailand’s international credibility and is proving a headache to both Asean and the UN. The sooner the Thai military accepts that foreign policy is the preserve of elected governments, the better.”
Beside these factors the question arises who is responsible for further actions. Both countries seem very stubborn to get a long-term solution which also leads to a lack of international credibility. ASEAN tries to be diplomatic but bilateral talks failed. The United Nations as well as some member states noticed the conflict & were calling for peaceful solutions but it will take much more casualties for an involvement of a foreign country.