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Monday, February 07, 2011

What is behind the latest Thailand-Cambodian conflict?

As so often the disputed 11th century Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia, long a source of anger for Thai nationalists who believe it rightly belongs to Bangkok, has become the focus of the renewed spat between the countries.

By Ian MacKinnon, Bangkok 2:09PM GMT 07 Feb 2011

But it was the arrest of seven Thai nationalists – including an MP from the ruling Democrat Party - who deliberately strayed over the disputed border into Cambodia, that ratcheted up anger in Bangkok. The jailing of two for long terms on spying charges probably started the ball rolling.

Yellow Shirt demonstrators – who once supported the Democrat-led coalition but have since turned against it – have again taken to the streets of Bangkok to protest the jailing of the pair as well as a host of other issues, including the government's impotence over the border dispute.

Some analysts believe that hawkish elements within the government and military are whipping up the nationalist fervour by provoking the fighting to show a strong hand to curry favour with hard-line voters in the upcoming poll.

With elections due this year the government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva needs to keep both elements on board, some say he is declining to rein in the extreme elements. His noisy demands that the Cambodians remove their national flag flying over the temple site and Thai army anger over a plaque on the site proclaiming "This is Cambodia" lend weight to the theory.

But some commentators go further. They suggest the fighting is the result of a secret pact between nationalist elements and hawkish generals in an effort to unseat the government, or even provoke a coup in a country where army takeovers are common-place.


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