The Thai-Cambodian border conflict has escalated over the past months. On 22 April at least six soldiers were killed and thousands of villagers had to flee to safety. Troops on both sides of the border have regularly exchanged fire since February. Thai and Cambodian soldiers have used guns, tanks and rockets in the fight over the territory that surrounds the 11th century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear. Part of the temple is said to have collapsed as a result of the shootings.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has accused Thailand of launching what he called a “full scale armed aggression against Cambodia”, with Thai artillery shells landing as far as 20 kilometers inside Cambodian territory. Thai authorities say they are responding to Cambodian artillery fire.
The battle is nasty. Based on two separate on-site investigations the NGO Cluster Munition Coalition concluded that Thailand fired cluster bombs, which was confirmed later by the Thai Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, who claimed they were used in self-defence.A number of countries plus the president of the Convention on Cluster Munitions have condemned the use of cluster bombs by Thailand.
A 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice awarded the Preah Vihear temple in the disputed area to Cambodia. But the decision did not settle ownership of the land that surrounds the temple. The dispute over the area flared up in 2008 when UNESCO declared the temple a World Heritage site. There have been occasional minor clashes between the two armies since then.
Thai pro-establishment and ultra-nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy – a.k.a. the Yellow Shirts – want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down, demanding that the government take a tougher stand against Cambodia over the temple dispute.
Vejjajiva has promised that general elections will be held no later than July, but there are rumours that a military coup could derail the polls. Thailand has a history of military coups: since the 1932 revolution, the armed forces have taken power 18 times, the last time in 2006.
Altogether, this is a far from peaceful situation. The Dutch government however sees no problem in exporting arms to Thailand, including actual training in shooting down enemy aircraft. Over the last five years arms export licences for Thailand have grown considerably to over 50 million Euros, most of it radar and fire control equipment sold by Thales Nederland.
Thales Nederland today proudly announces that its Flycatcher fire control system is successfully being modernized for the Thai army. Late March firing trials at Lopburi shooting range in Thailand, in cooperation with local partner Loxley, were the best Flycatcher firing trials ever, according to the Royal Thai Army. Just a month earlier Lopburi was the stage for Thai and US forces’ practicing warfare under the banner of Cobra Gold 2011.
[FS, 26 April 2011]