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– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Thailand Accused of Cluster Munitions Use

Xiaodon Liang

The Cambodian government and two nongovernmental organizations have accused the Thai military of using cluster munitions against Cambodian forces in clashes that began on Feb. 4 over disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple. The incident is the first reported use of such weapons since the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) came into force in August 2010. Neither Cambodia nor Thailand is a party to the CCM.

In a Feb. 14 speech at the United Nations, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said two soldiers were killed and eight injured by Thai cluster munitions.

The Cluster Munition Coalition and Norwegian People’s Aid have conducted on-site investigations and concluded that Thai forces fired dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM). The coalition says the Thai ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva confirmed this finding in an April 5 private meeting.

In an April 8 press release, the Thai government admitted using DPICM, but said they were not cluster munitions and that the coalition had “misrepresented” the conversation by categorizing them that way. The Bangkok Post, citing an army source, reported that the Thai military has suspended use of the artillery and shells involved in the February incident.

The coalition stated in an e-mail that DPICM are “without any doubt” a type of cluster munition. The CCM defines a cluster munition as a “conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms,” with certain specified exceptions. An October 2004 report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Defense listed DPICM, including artillery shells containing M42 and M46 submunitions, as cluster munitions. Submunitions of those types were found near Preah Vihear.

In the April 8 press release, Thailand said it used the DPICM “in self-defense” to respond to Cambodia’s use of “multiple-rocket launcher systems, which struck at targets indiscriminately.”

Fighting along the Thai-Cambodian border began again on April 22, and the Cambodian government has since made unverified accusations that “poisonous gas” was fired by Thai artillery.