Representatives of three NGOs said Thursday they will visit the Preah Vihear temple this weekend to inspect the site of the nearby market that burned down in border fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops earlier this month.
The groups say they want to know how the civilian site got caught up in a military dispute and how Cambodia and Thailand intend to both help the vendors who lost their livelihoods and prevent further fighting.
“There’s very grave concern that the civilians were essentially attacked in the conflict,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“There is a certain responsibility by both parties in the conflict…to try to minimize the effect on the civilians. I don’t know if [the market] was being targeted, but if it was being targeted, there are questions for both sides to answer,” he added.
Other organizations making the trip Saturday include the nationalist Khmer Civilization Foundation, which is organizing the two-day trip, and the Samaritan Love Mission.
During a one-hour gun battle on April 3, Thai shells flattened the ramshackle market of more than 200 stalls at the foot of the ancient stairs leading to the temple.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed Thursday that the government plans to rebuild a market at the same location, but there is no timeline yet for the reconstruction.
In the meantime, the Cambodian Red Cross has provided food and supplies to the civilians, and the government plans to give them plots of land for farming, he said.
But the Khmer Civilization Foundation said in a statement Thursday that Thailand should also take its part of responsibility.
“The Thai government…must respond by giving compensation to the civilian victims as the government of Cambodia paid compensation for the demonstrations in 2003 that damaged the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh,” the statement read.
Officials at the Thai Embassy could not be reached for comment.
Hang Soth, secretary-general of the Preah Vihear Authority, said he was not aware of the NGO’s demand but approved of it.
“We support the activity of the NGOs that demand compensation from the Thai government for the villagers who lost their houses,” he said.
Unesco officials from Phnom Penh will visit the temple later this month, he added. Officials from the UN organization could not be reached.
Unesco will remain the sole international institution involved, Mr Phay Siphan said.
The latest bout of fighting will not change the government’s strategy, and talks to solve the border dispute will remain bilateral, he said.
“I think it’s time for the Cambodian government to stop letting itself be pushed around,” said Kek Galabru, president of Licadho, another human rights NGO in Cambodia.
She was not available to go to Preah Vihear but supported the initiative. After months of bilateral talks have failed, the government should bring the issue up to the UN Security Council or the co-presidents of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, France and Indonesia, she said.
“They always want bilateral [talks,] but bilateral is failing,” she said. “Bilateral ends up having terrible consequences for civilians.”