Bangkok Tells Geneva Cambodia Planted New Mines at Border

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.

 

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