Thailand and Cambodia agree cease-fire
Thailand and Cambodia agreed on a cease-fire today that many hope will hold after a week of fierce artillery duels across their contested border that was some of the worst fighting in years between the Southeast Asian neighbors.
The border was quiet since early morning, when artillery fire boomed across the frontier and one rocket killed a Thai soldier, raising the one-week toll to 15.
Military commanders from both countries reached the deal after a 40-minute meeting at the border and agreed to reopen closed checkpoints, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said. "The news is good news for every side," he told The Associated Press.
Thai officials were more cautious, however. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed that Thailand's Lt. Gen. Tawatchai Samutsakorn met his Cambodian counterpart Maj. Gen. Chea Mon and reached a tentative truce. "They have agreed on the cease-fire in principle," Panitan said. But "we need to see whether this agreement will" hold.
Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, however, said no official deal had been agreed, but he welcomed the talks and called them a positive step.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said the front-line talks, which he said the other side had rejected until Thursday, indicated that Cambodia "finally saw the light ... saw that the current situation is not in anyone's interests."
The border dispute has stirred nationalist sentiment on both sides. But analysts say domestic politics may also be fueling the conflict, especially in Thailand, where the military that staged a coup in 2006 could be flexing its muscles ahead of elections due in June or July.
Speaking earlier in Cambodia, field commander Col. Suos Sothea said Thursday's fighting had centered again around two crumbling stone temples from the Khmer Empire at Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, which have been caught in crossfire since last Friday.
The body of a Thai soldier who died in one rocket attack Thursday was loaded into a helicopter at a hospital in Phanom Dongrak, which was busy with wounded Thai soldiers arriving from the front.
The conflict involves small swaths of land along the border that have been disputed for more than half a century. Fierce clashes have broken out several times since 2008, when Cambodia's 11th-century Preah Vihear temple was given U.N. World Heritage status over Thailand's objections.
Talks with Cambodia have apparently become divisive within the Thai government, with the military dragging its feet while Abhisit is more conciliatory.
One area of confusion has been over whether Indonesian military observers will be stationed at the border.
Hun Sen has said Cambodia would welcome them, but Thailand has been more circumspect.
Thailand's Sansern and Thani both insisted Thursday that the country did back the plan to station observers and insisted it was just a matter of working out the technical details. They did not explain why no agreement has been reached on the matter since it was first proposed two months ago.
On Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his Thai counterpart agreed to the observers after the two men met.
Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after four days of border fighting in February.
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