Thursday, 7 April 2011

Thailand admits use of cluster bombs against Cambodia

Unexploded bomblets are found in a Cambodian field, Source: CMC

An international organisation dedicated to preventing the use of cluster bombs announced that Thailand has admitted to using them in its border conflict with Cambodia in early February this year.

The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) claimed Thailand has confirmed its findings, based on two separate on-site visits, at a meeting on Tuesday 5th April.

According to the CMC, this is the first use of cluster munitions anywhere in the world since the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force and became binding international law.

While neither Thailand nor Cambodia have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, both of them are party to a 1997 landmine ban treaty. The convention bans production, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions.

Cluster munitions are large weapons, typically deployed from the air, that release dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions, according to the CWC. When dropped from the air their dispersal is often widespread, which means that both military targets and civilians can be impacted.

Many submunitions, or bomblets, fail to detonate on impact and can manifest in a similar way to landmines, killing and maiming people long after the conflict has ended.

The bomblets are often brightly coloured, which attracts children, who can be badly hurt if they pick the bomblets up. According to campaigners, thousands of villagers are now at risk of serious injury because of unexploded clusters near their homes.

The Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn argued on 6th April that the shells used by the Thai army were not the same as the cluster munitions mentioned by the CMC. He did admit, however, that the Thai army used “dual-purpose improved conventional munitions”, according to the Bangkok Post.

If, however, the government admitted to using the bomblets in a meeting with the CWC, it would represent a significant shift in the government's position. Soon after the clashes, which lasted for four days in early February, Cambodia accused Thailand to using the weapons. Thailand initially denied the claim and said it was the Cambodian forces who had used the cluster munitions.

It seems plausible that the Thai army opted to use cluster bombs instead of high-explosive munitions to avoid causing extensive damage to the Preah Vihear temple. This decision is likely to cause severe problems for the local communities for years to come.

The CMC's findings are likely to add a further strain to Thai-Cambodian relations, which haven't improved much since the February conflict. The Thai army has recently refused to attend a General Border Committee meeting in Indonesia, and minutes from a Joint Boundary Committee meeting are still waiting to be endorsed by the Thai parliament.

The clash has caused further problems as well. Statistics from the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism released on Monday 4th April showed that the number of Thai tourists visiting Cambodia in February dropped by almost fifty percent from the same month last year.

6,194 Thai tourists visited Cambodia in February 2011, compared to 12,269 in 2010. Cambodia's Minister of Tourism Thong Khon acknowledged that the drop was inevitable.

“Although the clashes occurred, we have never prevented Thai tourists from entering Cambodia, but they have concerns and decided not to come”, he was quoted in Xinhua as saying.

Sales of Thai products have also fallen considerably in Cambodia.

Sources: BBC News, Cluster Munitions Coalition website, Xinhua, Bangkok Post

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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