Thailand used banned munitions in temple clash, say activists

Geneva-based activists yesterday accused Thailand of using cluster munitions during a clash with Cambodia at the border area near Preah Vihear Temple in February.

Based on two separate on-site investigations, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) has concluded that Thailand used the weapons on Cambodian territory during the border conflict.

This is the first alleged use of such weapons in the world since the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions entered force and became binding international law, according to the CMC's statement. "It's appalling that any country would resort to using cluster munitions after the international community banned them," said CMC director Laura Cheeseman.

Cheeseman told The Nation she had also received confirmation on the use of cluster munitions from the Thai ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, during a meeting on April 5 Monday.

In the meeting, the ambassador verbally confirmed that 155mm dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM) were used. These are cluster bombs, she said.

The ambassador said Thailand used cluster munitions "in self-defence", using the principles of "necessity [and] proportionality and in compliance with the military code of conduct".

He alleged heavy use of rocket fire by Cambodian forces against civilian targets in Satisuk, in Si Sa Ket's Khukhan district. Sihasak could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The border skirmish between Thailand and Cambodia took place in the disputed areas adjacent to Preah Vihear, near Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district. The clash claimed about 10 lives, including civilians on both sides.

An official from the Second Army Region rejected the cluster-bomb accusation, saying the Army had not used such a weapon during its clash with Cambodia.

In February and April, CMC members conducted two separate missions to cluster-bomb-contaminated areas in Cambodia, including Svay Chrum village, Sen Chey village and around the Preah Vihear Temple hill. They claim to have seen unexploded munitions and fragmentation damage they believed were caused by cluster munitions. Norwegian People's Aid confirmed that unexploded M42/M46 and M85-type DPICM sub-munitions had been found.

Sister Denise Coghlan, a CMC leader who took part in the first research mission, said: "These cluster munitions have robbed two men of their lives, two more have lost their arms and a further five were injured. The area must be cleared immediately to prevent more suffering. Cambodia must make every effort to ensure the safety of civilians."

Cambodia and Thailand are not among the 108 countries to have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions but each has joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Both countries participated in the Oslo Process to negotiate the Convention on Cluster Munitions and attended its First Meeting of States Parties in Laos last November.

"This conflict should spur both countries to take urgent action to denounce the weapons and join the ban treaty," Cheeseman said.


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