Thailand renewed its claims, at an international conference in Switzerland on Monday, that two land mines that maimed Thai soldiers near the Preah Vihear temple had been recently planted by Cambodian troops with the intent to kill, a government official said.
Two Thai soldiers on patrol near the Preah Vihear temple lost their legs to land mines Oct 6. In an Oct 17 aide-memoire to Cambodia, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry said the area had been demined and that the land mines in question had been recently planted by Cambodians.
Phnom Penh has strongly denied those accusations, saying the mines were leftovers from Cambodia’s civil war.
Signatories to the Ottawa Convention, which bans the use of land mines and which Thailand and Cambodia have both signed, are meeting this week in Geneva to report on their progress.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thailand raised the allegations at the conference.
“Let me settle that issue. We do fully comply [with the Ottawa Convention],” Phay Siphan said by telephone. “We don’t plant mines anymore. We have destroyed all the stockpiles of mines that we found,” he said, adding that the Cambodian delegation told this to other countries represented in Geneva on Monday.
Phay Siphan added that the temple’s surroundings have long been identified as a mined area, and that Thailand itself recognized that fact when it agreed this summer to form a mixed demining committee to facilitate the work of the Joint Border Commission in the area. He added there was therefore no need for a multilateral fact-finding mission on the Oct 6 incident, which Thailand is requesting.
Virachai Plasai, director-general of the Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs at the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry, said in an e-mail from Geneva earlier Monday that Cambodia’s response to Thailand’s accusation had been unsatisfactory.
If a bilateral solution to the mine dispute cannot be found, Thailand will involve the UN, he wrote.
“This is a serious issue. We’re talking about a possible or probable violation of the Convention by a State Party known to have been advocating strongly against land mines,” Virachai wrote.
“[A]fter thorough examination and investigation, we maintain that these mines were newly planted on Thai territory, and by somebody who is not Thai,” he added. “They were planted along a path used on a daily basis by soldiers and civilians alike, with intention to kill.”
If it doesn’t receive Cambodia’s full cooperation, Thailand may resort to Article 8 of the Ottawa Convention, Virachai added. That means Thailand could request through UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Cambodia submit a clarification regarding the incident to the UN within 28 days.
“If new mines were laid, this is a grave issue in terms of the Ottawa Treaty To Ban Landmines,” said Denise Coghlan, representative of the International Campaign To Ban Landmines in Cambodia.
“Cambodia and Thailand have indicated they want to resolve the issue in a collaborative way,” she wrote in an e-mail from Geneva, adding Cambodia had announced at the meeting it was conducting a serious investigation of the issue.
The treaty mentions the possible intervention of the UN secretary-general and member states but does not include sanctions for countries found to have broken their commitment.
“The Mine Ban Treaty has always focused on a collaborative approach based on transparent exchanges between State Parties—there are no sanctions for violations,” ICBL executive director Sylvie Brigot wrote in an e-mail from Switzerland.
However, a possible deterrent is the prospect of losing funding for mine clearance, UK-based demining specialist Andy Smith said.
“So, if the carrot to tempt countries to sign up was a promise of international aid to assist in the clean-up, then the stick to ‘punish’ failings must be the withdrawal of that financial assistance. Cambodia has had many million dollars of international aid for demining since the late 1980s,” he wrote in an e-mail, adding it was unlikely the Cambodian government would sanction the use of land mines.
Border guards could have found a cache and used the mines even without knowing of the ban, but the mines are most likely old and were missed in demining operations, Smith added.