By Matt Gertken



Cambodia says that it will soon enter cease-fire negotiations with Thailand after five days of fighting in disputed areas along their border. Indonesia, meanwhile, is attempting to mediate the dispute but there is no reason to think that sporadic fighting will come to a close.

Clearly, the outbreak of fighting between Cambodia and Thailand in April is connected to the latest outburst in February and this is the most intensive fighting the two have seen since back in 2008 when there was a real flare-up of skirmishes on the border.

Now, the immediate context is that after the fighting ended in February, Indonesia brokered an arrangement by which unarmed observers would be put into the disputed areas and that would try to keep the peace between the two. The Thai military subsequently backed away from that tentative agreement and though it isn’t clear that the Thai side has started the fighting this time, it’s definitely clear that the two militaries are really in control of the border situations.

The much bigger question is about what’s happening institutionally in Thailand. Just like in the 2008 segment of Thailand and Cambodia fighting, in the current context we have a transition under way politically in Thailand. At that time, you had a weak government that was being challenged by mass protests and was on the verge of collapsing, which would usher in the current government. Now at this time, the current government is about to dissolve parliament and hold new elections, which are expected to happen in July.

These elections are extremely contentious. On the issue of Cambodia, what this suggests is that Thailand’s internal political crisis is really the motivating factor whether it be because of Thai factions pushing the Cambodian issue in order to shape perceptions ahead of the election or Cambodia attempting to take advantage of Thailand’s internal divisions. But we have to remember that these two countries have been historically antagonistic; they’re likely to continue sporadic fighting no matter what, but it seems like that the fighting is still anchored to the political conditions inside each country and that we’re not getting to a point where it’s going to spiral out of control.

So assuming that the Thailand Cambodia border conflict doesn’t spiral out of control, the next question becomes whether we’re about to see major institutional change in Thailand and or changes to the way that power is distributed across the country overall.

Clearly, the military has been building its influence in politics over recent years. Throughout modern Thai history the military has intervened during periods of instability or rocky transitions. This could involve behind-the-scenes actions or outright intervention in the form of a military coup like we saw in 2006. So clearly the situation is very contentious in Thailand; it’s not a foregone conclusion that military would act to spoil the elections because it could wait until after the elections to see whether its interests are in fact supported by the outcome of elections but either way it’s going to be the very interesting to watch.


Politics Behind Thai - Cambodian Conflict is republished with permission of STRATFOR.


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