JAKARTA, Indonesia – Military observers will be sent to the Thai-Cambodian border to enforce an unofficial cease-fire in place since deadly clashes erupted near a disputed 11th century temple, Southeast Asian foreign ministers said Tuesday after emergency talks.
Each country has accused the other of starting the conflict in which at least eight people have been killed and thousands displaced, and both until now have disagreed on how it should be settled.
But Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said after a meeting with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations that both Cambodia and Thailand had agreed to a proposal to send up to 40 military and civilian observers to the remote, mountainous area.
The unarmed observers — all from Indonesia — will "observe the commitment by both sides to avoid further armed clashes" and provide accurate and impartial reports about complaints of violations, he told reporters after the 90-minute meeting in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
The conflict this month involving exchanges of small arms, mortars and artillery fire is rooted in a decades-old border dispute near the Preah Vihear temple that has fueled nationalist passions on both sides.
The monument was built between the 9th and 11th centuries and sits atop a 1,722-foot (525-meter) cliff. While the temple was awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, sovereignty over adjacent areas has never been clearly resolved.
Skirmishes have erupted several times since 2008, when Preah Vihear was awarded U.N. World Heritage status, but soldiers and locals say none has been as violent as the latest clash.
The U.N. Security Council expressed "grave concern" Monday and gave strong backing to the efforts of ASEAN — which usually refrains from interfering in the internal affairs of member states — to help end the dispute.
Natalegawa indicated the regional grouping was ready to play its part.
"We are meant to resolve our problems through negotiations," he told reporters. "We are waging peace. That's what we are doing, not waging war .... so that no more guns and artilleries make a sound in our region."
"I would like to make it absolutely clear that ... the option of conflict, the option of use of force, is not meant to be on the table," he said.
While no formal cease-fire has been signed, the border has been quiet in recent days.
Earlier Tuesday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told university graduates in Phnom Penh that he was ready to back off earlier calls for an official cease-fire, which would require a perhaps lengthy approval by the Thai parliament, if Bangkok agreed to the deployment of observers.
"Signing a cease-fire is not necessary, but the arrival of observers ... is what's most important," he said, adding monitors would be welcome to all areas inside the Cambodian border, from the front lines to military camps and ammunition warehouses.
"They can inspect wherever and whenever they want."
While Hun Sen's has sought to shift the debate to an international stage, his Thai counterpart, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has pressed hard for a bilateral solution.
Associated Press reporter Sopheng Cheang contributed to this report from Phnom Penh.