Fighting on the Cambodian border continued over the weekend, being renewed today. The action has not been intense, mostly assault rifles. But local villagers have heard machine-guns and artillery or mortars. There have been twenty or so casualties. All this was a sharp break from recent peace efforts. Three months ago, after two years of armed stalemate, Thailand and Cambodia agreed to reopen border crossings at the site of the ancient (1300 year old) Preah Vihear Hindu temple on the border. The two countries have long argued over who owns how much of the ancient site. In 1962, an international court declared the temple Cambodian, but Thailand continued to claim adjacent areas that the Cambodians insist are part of the temple complex. Each side has about 3,000 troops near the temple site, and there have been a few shooting incidents since 2008, but nothing serious. The two countries have been negotiating the withdrawal of troops. The most recent fighting has damaged portions of the temple (which Cambodians occupy) and caused over 20,000 local civilians to flee. This dispute is but one of many similar ones. The basic problem is that the current 730 kilometer long border was defined in 1907 by the placement of only 73 border markers. This has left the exact location of the border open to interpretation. Occasionally these interpretations clash, as is happening now. Neither side wants a full scale war, even though Thailand has a larger and better equipped military. In the last few years, Cambodia doubled its annual military budget to $500 million. Thailand spends more than six times that, and has done so for decades. Thailand has 300,000 troops, Cambodia only 100,000. But Thailand has distractions, as in Moslem terrorists in the south, rebellious populists in the north, and unrest across the northwest border with Burma. The Preah Vihear temple is 340 kilometers east of the capital. The government believes that a major war with Cambodia would soon become unpopular, and make the red shirts more powerful and likely to take over.
Red shirts (populists) say they have proof that the army planned, for years, the violent crackdown in 2010. This elicited surprise among military and police planners, who take for granted that plans would be drawn up for all contingencies you can imagine. The attack on the red shirts last year was similar to the 1989 Chinese response to the massive demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
The government asked the army to be more flexible, and effective, in the south. Senior officials believe that the Islamic radicals and Moslem gangsters are being more innovative in changing their tactics. So the generals are being urged to be more innovative and quicker to adapt. The military is asked, not ordered, because in Thailand, the generals are very much a political power, and not to be pushed around. The army believes its tactics are working, and that the Islamic terror groups are being slowly crushed.
Royalist yellow shirts continue (since January 25) to occupy Ratchadamneng Road (a historic district in the capital) to pressure the government to be more aggressive against Cambodia. Yellow shirts are also threatening to occupy key locations in the capital as well.
February 6, 2011: Thai and Cambodian troops agreed to a ceasefire at the Preah Vihear temple. It lasted less than 24 hours.
February 4, 2011: In the south, three policemen were killed in two attacks.
February 3, 2011: In the south, five Buddhists were shot dead, apparently by Islamic terrorists seeking to drive all infidels (non-Moslems) out of the area.