Government officials on Thursday again denied Thai accusations that Cambodian troops planted new land mines near the disputed border in Preah Vihear province, stirring up an issue that has been largely overshadowed by Bangkok’s political turmoil in recent weeks.
They also reproached Thailand for bringing up the accusations of mine laying at an international meeting last month, saying Thailand was trying to lobby the international community and rally foreign opinion to its side in the dispute with Cambodia.
At a meeting last month in Geneva of state parties to the Ottawa Convention, which bans the use of land mines, the Thai delegation said Cambodia was responsible for planting mines that injured two Thai soldiers near the border on Oct 6. The Thai delegates argued that the alleged land mine incident constituted a breach of the Ottawa convention by Cambodia.
Speaking to reporters, Sam Sotha, secretary-general of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, Heng Ratana, deputy director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, and Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, said the Thai troops were injured by old mines, which have long littered the disputed border area because of Cambodia’s protracted civil war.
“The Thais held a conference in Thailand to lobby all the ambassadors to criticize Cambodia for putting mines on their land,” Sam Sotha said, referring to a briefing held Oct 16 at the Thai Foreign Ministry with representatives from 64 countries.
“If Thai troops did not enter Cambodian land, mines would not explode. Thailand wants to transform the border confrontation into a mine issue,” he added. A map showing confirmed and suspected minefields covering most of the border zone near Preah Vihear temple was also distributed at the press conference.
Virachai Plasai, director-general of the Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Bangkok is still waiting on a satisfactory response from Phnom Penh regarding the mine laying suspicion.
“The ball is in the court of Cambodia. What we agreed to in Geneva is for Cambodia to finish its unilateral investigation,” Virachai said.
“We were using extreme restraint even though in Thailand there’s extreme feeling against the fact that new mines have been planted and our soldiers stepped on them,” he said Thursday by telephone from Bangkok.
Thailand, he added, reserves the right to use other legal means under the Ottawa Convention if Cambodia’s answers are not satisfactory, or drags on past the new year. Those means include appealing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene.