Another border skirmish took place yesterday between Thai and Cambodian troops. Reports are, as ever, contradictory and inconclusive but it seems that two Cambodian soldiers were killed, five Thais wounded and some soldiers captured by the other side (I have seen this described as Cambodians captured and Thais captured – not sure which is which). Now reinforcements are being rushed to the area, including more heavy artillery. Jet fighters are on standby in Thailand and presumably the same is true in Cambodia.
The Phnom Penh Post adds that a Thai helicopter opened fire on Cambodian troops who responded with anti-aircraft weapons.
The reason why the troops are in the area at all and prepared for fighting is because of the Preah Vihear temple. This Khmer-built temple belongs to Cambodia (according to internationally binding legal decisions as well as history and tradition) but access is only really possible from the Thai side. Ownership has been disputed off and on over the years and tension breaks out from time to time, usually when someone has some reason to call for a nationalist response.
In recent months, the ringleaders of the extreme right-wing PAD mob have been stirring up nationalist sentiment by claiming that the temple belongs to Thailand, should be seized and other inflammatory, cynical lies. Two Thai soldiers subsequently lost legs in landmine explosions – yet more blood on the hands of the Pad mob leaders.
This week, Cambodian PM Hun Sen, usually described as something of a ‘strong man,’ suddenly upped the ante by declaring that Thai troops must withdraw within 24 hours or else his troops would turn the area into a ‘battle zone of death.’ Quite why he escalated the tension (and hence yesterday’s fighting) is not clear. People are assuming there is some internal reason which is not clear to outsiders and that means, by definition, we don’t know what it is.
The Thai government has instructed Thai people involved in non-essential activities to return home and hundreds of gamblers in the semi-legal border casinos have been returning, carrying their winnings or their losses prematurely declared.
The region is being described as calm at the moment. It goes without saying, of course, that both sides blame each other.
The Thai-Cambodian border conflict has suddenly reached new heights of alarm after Cambodian PM has issued an ultimatum calling on Thai troops to withdraw within 24 hours or else face the area becoming a ‘life and death battle zone.’ Concerned Cambodian young men have, apparently, been signing up for the armed forces, some of which appear to be semi-official organizations made up of former Khmer Rouge fighters, if I read it correctly. The visit by the new Thai Foreign Minister (we have had quite a few recently) to Phnom Penh appears to have been unsuccessful. Even so, the sudden announcement by Hun Sen seems surprising – is there some internal conflict or division which he is seeking to overcome by this call for nationalism? I have written before that one of the big problems is the almost complete lack of knowledge that Thai and Cambodian people have of each other – if I ask my students to name one Cambodian celebrity or one word of Khmer language they look at me as if I were a very strange creature (which may be justified, of course). Attempts by the Education Ministry to whip up nationalism here by printing textbooks depicting Cambodians as inherently untrustworthy does not help.
Sometimes it can appear that everything I think is wrong – so many voices try to justify the exact opposite of what appears to be the self-evident truth that it can be disorienting. Well, the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates said so a little re-evaluation is not always a bad thing. However, some events show that my beliefs are not that far wrong, or at least not all of the time. So, congratulations to Paul Krugman for winning the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008. The prize citation relates to Krugman’s work in trade patterns and locations of economic activity but many people will relate the prize to his opinion pieces in the New York Times (syndicated in the Bangkok Post, also), which have relentlessly picked apart the faulty reasoning and occasional bald lies proposed by the right wing ideologues who have dominated American public life since the time of the Reagan disaster.
Fiendish Khmer wizards have been meeting at Preah Vihear during the solar eclipse to cast black magic spells at the poor Thai people – well, of course the Khmers have a reputation for doing that – monks too. Fortunately, the good citizens of Si Sa Ket are ready to protect us all by donning yellow to resist the vile magic.
The wife of Cambodian PM Hun Sen, M. Bun Rany has been identified as the leader of this occult war and has ‘called upon ancestral spirits’ in a new supernatural offensive. It is not reported whether the spirits replied or what, if anything, they thought about all of this.
Here is what the Bangkok Post has to say about the event: “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany yesterday hosted a huge ritual at the Preah Vihear temple to bless the country with good luck and to give it power against the backdrop of a dispute with Thailand over the area surrounding the temple.
The ceremony, chosen to coincide with a solar eclipse yesterday, was attended by about 1,000 people, including high-ranking officials, priests and experts in rituals. The ritual started at 9.30am.”
This is all going to end badly, isn’t it? The blood will be on the hands of ringleaders of the anti-democracy movement who have deliberately stirred up nationalist sentiment for their own grubby purposes. Shame on them and the useful idiots who protest with them.
Inflation rose to 9.2% in July, the highest rate for ten years. High oil prices are identified as the principal cause, although the annual rate remains apparently at the projected rate of 6.6%. Things do not seem likely to get better for the foreseeable future, either on the economic or political fronts.