Cambodian and Thai officials declared a cease-fire yesterday on a seventh day of fighting at the Thai-Cambodian border, the longest stretch of violence since armed border conflict first erupted in 2008.
Major General Chea Morn, commander of RCAF Region 4, and Lieutenant General Thawatchai Samutsakorn, commander of Thailand’s Army Region 2, reached the agreement after a meeting of more than 90 minutes that followed heavy shelling near Ta Moan and Ta Krabei temples in Oddar Meanchey province, according to statements yesterday from the Defense Ministry.
Under the cease-fire, the fighting must stop, troops must refrain from mobilizing and commanders are encouraged to form special teams to improve communications, a statement said. The two sides must also facilitate the return of civilians to their homes and reopen any border checkpoints.
The statement also acknowledged the limitations of the meeting and the long road ahead in the conflict: “Let the Joint Boundary Committee from the two governments solve the border dispute. The military can only solve problems related to the cease-fire.”
Indonesian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Michael Tene, said that Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa met with Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday in Jakarta where the latter affirmed Thailand’s commitment to a ceasefire, a peaceful resolution and the role of Asean in the matter.
“Of course, it is our understanding that the position of Thailand on these basic issues is in line with the position of Cambodia, and therefore on paper at least, Thailand and Cambodia are committed to a diplomatic solution to their problem,” he said.
He said Thailand and Cambodia were close to finalizing an agreement that would bring Indonesian observers to the area but he declined to provide details. Cambodia and Thailand have disagreed on whether observers would be allowed in the 4.6-square-kilometer disputed area near Preah Vihear temple.
The two ministers discussed the possibility of bilateral talks with “appropriate engagement” by Indonesia, Mr Tene said.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat declined to comment and Thai Foreign Ministry spokesmen for the Thai and Cambodian foreign ministries could not be reached.
In an article posted on the Bangkok Post Website, Royal Thai Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha was cited as casting doubt on the strength of the ceasefire agreement.
“Actually, a ceasefire has begun. Unit commanders of the two sides in the area had talks to end the fighting. Let’s wait and see whether there will be more fighting this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow,” he said.
A senior RCAF official on the front line, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed similar views that the ceasefire might not last.
“The situation in general is looking better but we still cannot trust them,” the lieutenant colonel said. “If we withdrew our forces they would promptly shoot us again.”
A statement yesterday from the Defense Ministry detailed the intense fighting that preceded the agreement.
Thai forces attacked Cambodian position near Ta Moan and Ta Kabrei temples with heavy artillery on Wednesday night, and shelling continued until 3:55 am Thursday morning, according to the statement. Thailand also shelled near another pagoda in Banteay Ampil disrict. Shelling later resumed on RCAF positions west of O’Smach district and continued as of 8 am.
Even with the standoff cooling down, it was unclear what the next move would be for either country, both of which have repeatedly disagreed on the fundamental conditions of their talks. Thailand has long supported bilateral talks, with Cambodia supporting a third party because it says Thailand has broken past bilateral agreements.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday called for a ceasefire and said he planned to discuss the matter at June’s Asean Summit in Jakarta.
The Bangkok Post’s website reported yesterday that if fighting had ceased Thai Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon was to meet his Cambodian counterpart General Tea Banh sometime after Saturday, according General Noppadon Inthapanya, General Prawit’s secretary.