ASEAN Defense: Washington Times on Thai-USA war games near Thai-Cambodian “Clash Point”

The following is from the Washington Times:

BANGKOK | Thousands of U.S. troops began military exercises with Bangkok’s military on Monday, while a bloody, four-day artillery duel between Thailand and Cambodia flared on their border and a decades-long Muslim insurgency smoldered out of control in the south.

Cobra Gold, which is scheduled to conclude Feb. 18, is one of the world’s biggest multinational, land-based maneuvers. It involves 11,220 people, including 7,200 U.S. service members.

U.S. and other foreign forces are using Thailand‘s Vietnam War-era Utapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield in Chanthaburi province and other facilities, about 280 miles southwest of the fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border.

The U.S. Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, is deployed in Korat, about 180 miles west of the clashes.

U.S. boots are on the ground in this Buddhist, Southeast Asian ally, while a shooting feud between Thailand and Cambodia has killed at least seven people and wounded dozens more.

During the past four days, Thailand and Cambodia attacked each other’s jungle-based positions with artillery, mortars, rocket-fired grenades and other weapons, pausing on occasion before shooting again.

They fought for at least one hour Monday after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said, “We need the United Nations to send forces here and create a buffer zone to guarantee that there is no more fighting.”

Both sides then agreed to an unofficial cease-fire, but Thailand rejected U.N. intervention and insisted on direct talks with Cambodia.

Elsewhere in Thailand, the U.S. military‘s 30th Cobra Gold planned several live-fire demonstrations and other assaults.

Thai Lt. Gen. Surapun Wongthai serves as exercise commander, with U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck Jr. as deputy commander, the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported.

Among the U.S. Marine units participating in Thailand are: Okinawa’s 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment acting as its ground combat element; Marine Wing Support Squadron 172; Marine Aircraft Group 36; and Combat Logistics Regiments 35 and Combat Logistics Regiment 3, it said.

The Sasebo, Japan-based USS Essex, USS Germantown and USS Denver are also involved.

Cobra Gold training exercises include troops from Japan, South Korea, Singapore and, for the first time, Malaysia.

An amphibious assault is scheduled for Thursday on Thailand‘s southern Hat Yao coast. The cross-border fighting by Thailand and Cambodia was not expected to spill into areas used by Cobra Gold.

Each side repeatedly said the other country’s forces fired first after shells landed in Thailand and Cambodia, hitting villages, setting homes and shops on fire and forcing hundreds of people to flee.

Bangkok and Phnom Penh both claim to own the thin slivers of border land near the stone rubble of an 11th-century Hindu temple built by Cambodians when their Khmer kingdom stretched across much of present-day Thailand.

The cross-border fighting damaged the Preah Vihear temple, which was part of an ancient network of scattered Hindu shrines when Cambodia‘s nearby Angkor Wat complex served as a center of political and spiritual power more than 900 years ago.

Preah Vihear also occupies a strategic military position because it is on a high cliff overlooking northern Cambodia‘s flatlands 1,722 feet below, about 150 miles north of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

If Thai forces can dominate Preah Vihear or its surrounding territory on Thailand‘s eastern border, they would have a high-ground position against Cambodia, making both sides wary of each other’s military forces close to the Dangrek Mountains’ cliffside zone.

Thailand is gravely concerned about the use the temple of [Preah Vihear] by Cambodia for military purposes,” Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wrote to the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has designated the temple as a World Heritage Site. Both countries want to profit from the growing number of tourists visiting the ruins and stopping at restaurants, shops, hotels and other facilities during their travels.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but a 2-square-mile area on the surrounding cliff is disputed as both countries point to different historical maps.

The office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York said on Sunday, “The secretary-general appeals to both sides to put in place an effective arrangement for cessation of hostilities, and to exercise maximum restraint.”

Bangkok’s internal political problems are also a wild card in the volatile mix, which could concern Cobra Gold.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the Thai army chief, announced in January that he “did not want to stage a coup” despite his role in a 2006 putsch.

Thailand’s military has staged more than 18 coups and attempted coups since the 1930s. The most recent, in September 2006, overthrew the popularly elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In April and May, the army battled pro-democracy Red Shirts who blockaded Bangkok’s streets, resulting in 91 deaths — mostly civilians — amid protests against the coup and demands to restore Mr. Thaksin to power.

The Red Shirts did not oppose last year’s Cobra Gold. However, Sean Boonpracong, a Red Shirt spokesman at the time, warned, “If the United States ignores us, we would put forth more opposition to the next Cobra Gold exercise” in 2011.

“We have tens of millions of followers,” said Mr. Boonpracong, who later distanced himself from the Red Shirts after being detained briefly by the army last year.

In 2004, the poorly disciplined Thai army suffocated more than 78 minority Malay-Thai Muslim men after tying them up and laying them flat on top of one another in army trucks.

Each year, London-based Amnesty International and other human rights groups report allegations of extrajudicial killings and torture committed by the army in the south, along Thailand‘s border with Muslim-majority Malaysia, where an unstoppable insurgency has left more than 4,000 people dead on all sides since 2004.

One thought on “ASEAN Defense: Washington Times on Thai-USA war games near Thai-Cambodian “Clash Point”

  1. I was pretty sure, even before reading the Bangkok Post this evening, that Abhisit i in serious trouble. He and his army masters, so far from reading from the same page, aren’t even reading the same book any more, and it is clear that the army is making all the decisions. As PPT noted, Abhisit appears not to have received the memo.

    After reading the BP this evening, it seems to me he is in serious trouble. Here is their article, and my interpretation, for what it’s worth:

    “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will make a telephone call to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon tonight to explain the border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said on Tuesday. Mr Panitan said the prime minister would make the call at 8pm.”

    Whenever Abhsit ‘wants to ‘explain’, it’s because his lies have not been believed. I never believed a word of the story that the Cambodians instigated all of the conflicts, but this confirms it for me.

    Cambodia has petitioned the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to intervene in the dispute.”

    And ASEAN have effectively told Kasit to go and sort it out with Cambodia himself, In other words, the Chair of ASEAN doesn’t believe a word of it either. Thailand is just now finding out what it mans not to have any friends in the region.

    “Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will also explain the Thai-Cambodian conflict and his consultations with the Asean chairman in a live television broadcast tonight at 10 o’clock.
    Nobody in their right mind conducts briefings to ASEAN by going on national TV. Kasit knows he is not believed and won’t be getting any help from ASEAN. Or anyone, I doubt if even the odious USA will wan to get involved. Going on TV is a transparent and flimsy ploy to appeal to Thai public sentiment in an effort to ward off this disgraceful government being in trouble at home as well for ballsing it up so badly.

    “Thawil Pliensri, secretary-general of the National Security Council, said the prime minister had given a briefing at a meeting of  the NSC  attended by all armed forces commanders.”

    Interpretation: Abhisit was carpeted by his bosses and told to pull his finger out of his ass.

    “Mr Abhisit reiterated that Thailand and Cambodian were not at war and the clashes of the past few days  had not expanded to other areas. Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon reported that people living along the border had been evacuated.”

    Sounds like a high quality briefing doesn’t it?. Not at war. Yet.

    “Mr Abhisit said the clashes were triggered by the long-standing conflict over the 4.6 square kilometres area which is still in dispute.

    Another lie. The territorial dispute about the 4.6 sq kms is the same today as it was yesterday as it was last year, and only Thailand thinks it is a dispute at all, much to their chagrin because nobody else sees anything but a bunch of children refusing o accept the teachers ruling on the matter. Abhisit has blundered by sending the incompetent Panich and friends as agents provocateur, and now he’s trying to put the genie back in the bottle before the Army decides to kick him out via one of their routine coups d’etat. This was a major blunder, even for the incompetent and mendacious Abhisit.

    “He said the government would solve the conflict through peaceful means.”

    The army appears to disagree, with Sanserm now saying ‘no more negotiations’. and the chief of the 2nd Army saying he will not rush to comply with Abhsisit’s order to reopen negotiations. Abhisit is not only not in charge (if he ever was), but the Army is preparing for a coup right now, these are probably the first actions in a process which will see a coup ‘to save the country’. Whether they will get the support of Thais this time or whether Prayuth might find himself facing a firing squad if he launches yet another military overthrow is not so very clear.

    “The government is open to negotiations but would not rush in to talks, he said.”

    His bosses in the army don’t seem to agree.

    “Although Cambodia had asked the United Nations and Asean to intervene, the prime minister still believed the conflict could be solved bilaterally.”

    Abhisit doesn’t want intervention because Thailand is in the wrong and intervention will make that very clear well outside its own borders where it cannot lie and be believed.He says he is confident that it can all be sorted out, but he hasn’t been remarkably successful so far has he? One is entitled to ask why it got to ‘skirmishes’ (read: all out artillery battles) if it was possible to sort it out. In fact, we’re only here because the incompetent and mendacious Mr Abhisit and his hangers-on couldn’t get it sorted out and can’t sort it out. So instead, they looked to manufacture a conflict with Cambodia in order to garner support for the election this year. I suspect it has all gone horribly wrong for poor Markie. Poor Thailand too, I suspect they’re on a hiding to nothing on this one. The folk in the big house have really cocked it up this time, and they will try to shuffle Abhisit out of harm’s way lest everyone in Thailand should see whose were the hands really pulling the strings. Look for some big changes quite soon.

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