Tensions between the Thailand and Cambodia continue to escalate with both countries recently trading barbs on their seemingly intractable conflict over territorial jurisdiction of the Preah Vihear temple on their border. The Cambodian military brass launched the first public salvo last week claiming that Bangkok recklessly used chemical weapons against its troops, noting that Thai artillery shells were ‘filled with poisonous gas.’
The accusation is a further sign that attempts to resolve the dispute through diplomatic channels are sputtering. We shouldn’t confuse the recent ceasefire, agreed to by militaries on both sides, as a move towards a greater political settlement.
Thailand and Cambodia are both state parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that prohibits the development, production or use of chemical weapons. Bangkok quickly disputed Phnom Penh’s statement, with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya declaring that ‘the accusations from Cambodia hold no truth at all.’
Thailand was previously suspected of having a chemical weapons programme as late as 2001 and some Thai companies were sanctioned by the US government for chemical weapons proliferation during the Clinton administration. However, the Thais ratified the CWC in 2003 and there’s no open source intelligence since to suggest they’ve breached their treaty obligations.
While there may indeed be merit in Cambodia’s accusation of aerial espionage and the use of cluster munitions within its territory, it’s likely that the chemical weapons statement is a futile attempt to wrest key international partners away from Thailand.