Cambodian PM accuses Thais of war mongering

AP News
Posted: Apr 27, 2011 11:51 AM
Cambodian PM accuses Thais of war mongering

Cambodia's leader accused Thailand on Wednesday of loving war and said he wants to talk peace with his Thai counterpart at an upcoming regional meeting.

In his first comments since border fighting began last Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he welcomes talks with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the meeting in Indonesia early next month.

The two countries traded fire for a sixth day Wednesday, after the death of a Thai civilian a day earlier brought the toll to 14. Tens of thousands of civilians on both sides have been forced to flee their homes.

"The current Thai leader likes war, provokes war," Hun Sen said in a speech to a women's group. "I have never met any Thai leader in the past who had bad behavior like Abhisit."

Both sides have accused the other of starting the fighting.

"Cambodia is a small, poor country and has fewer forces (than Thailand), but don't you forget that an ant can make an elephant not get any sleep," Hun Sen said. "Cambodian's weaponry is not just slingshots."

Cambodia employed truck-mounted rocket launchers for the first time Tuesday, in what Hun Sen said was retaliation for Thailand's use of heavy weapons.

Abhisit, meanwhile, said his government is not willing to have a meeting of the two countries' defense ministers unless there is a cease-fire first.

"If they want to talk, the easiest way is to stop the firing," Abhisit told Parliament after visiting injured civilians in Surin province in the northeast.

Talks with Cambodia have apparently become a divisive issue within the Thai government, with the military dragging its feet while Abhisit takes a more conciliatory position.

On Tuesday, it appeared that Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan would meet his Cambodian counterpart in Phnom Penh, but Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd then said the trip was canceled because Cambodian media had allegedly said it was to negotiate terms for a Thai surrender.

Abhisit, however, said the trip could not take place because Prawit had an engagement in China.

The army has already stymied a plan to station Indonesian military observers along the border. Hun Sen said Wednesday that Cambodia would welcome them on its side of the border regardless of any delays by Thailand.

Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after four days of border fighting in February.

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.

The Thai army has been flexing its muscles domestically in recent weeks, raising political tensions. It has staged several high-profile maneuvers inside the country, accompanied by statements by the top brass declaring their dedication to protecting the monarchy.

There is speculation that the military disagrees with Abhisit's plan to hold elections by early July. It is believed to fear the return to power of allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom it deposed in a 2006 coup over accusations of corruption and disrespect for the king.

Meanwhile, the Thai Foreign Ministry issued a belated refutation late Wednesday night of Cambodian charges that it had fired a shell Saturday with "poisonous smoke" that caused weakness among troops that inhaled it. Thai officials had earlier denied the use of any chemical agents but did not offer further explanation.

The statement said that Thai troops responding to shelling from Cambodia had fired smoke shells with white phosphorous "as a warning signal, causing no harm to people."