Ban Ki-Moon has has appealed to the Thai and Cambodian governments to turn their statements about ceasing hostilities into reality, as skirmishes at the disputed Preah Bihear border area continued for a fourth day.
The United Nations secretary-general issued a statement Monday morning pledging to put the UN at the disposal of the two nations to find a “lasting solution to the dispute” at the site of the World Heritage-listed temple.
Ban’s statement came after the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Sunday to decry what he called Thailand’s “full-scale armed aggression” against Cambodia.
“This fresh onslaught by the Thai armed forces has resulted in more human casualties and damages to the temple of Preah Vihear as well as other properties,” Hun Sen wrote.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that Thailand had already explained its position to the UNSC, but that it would happily provide further information in response to Hun Sen’s complaint.
Army commanders from the two countries had agreed a ceasefire at the site on Saturday, but fighting continued that evening and again on Sunday evening. The number of people killed and injured remains unclear, with claims ranging from five to more than 60. Civilians and soldiers from both sides of the border have been hurt.
Each side has claimed that the other started it.
Preah Vihear is an 11th-century temple on the Cambodian side of the border. Adjacent to it is a 4.6km² area of land that has been claimed by both countries. The issue over sovereignty of this area has been a flashpoint issue in Thai politics in recent years, with nationalist groups such as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or “yellow shirts” using it as a core theme in their attacks on governments run by their opponents.
Tensions rose again recently after a group of Thai activists entered into Cambodian territory at the site. All seven were convicted of trespass by a Cambodian court, and two – former yellow shirt leader Veera Somkwamkid and his assistant – were jailed for espionage.
The PAD has criticised the Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – to whom they effectively delivered power in 2008 – of failing to take a sufficiently aggressive stance over the disputed land, and now of failing to take action to “free” the two jailed Thais.
In a statement, Singapore’s ministry of foreign affairs noted that the border clashes were damaging both for the long-term relationship of the countries involved and for the broader interests of the Asean economic region.