Indonesia’s foreign minister “indefinitely” postponed a round of shuttle diplomacy to Thailand and Cambodia on Monday aimed at brokering a ceasefire in the neighbours’ bloody border clashes that have left 12 soldiers dead.
At the last minute Marty Natalegawa cancelled a planned visit that was to take in Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss ending the four days of fighting around two 12th century temples in a disputed border area littered with landmines.
The bitter fighting is the worst since trouble flared along the disputed border three years ago. Tens of thousands of people on both sides were sent fleeing for the safety of makeshift shelters, leaving villages like ghost-towns.
The latest round of fighting comes after Indonesia as the chair of the south-east Asian ASEAN bloc — of which Thailand and Cambodia are both members — brokered a truce to deadly skirmishes in February.
Indonesian troops were due to travel to the scene of February’s fighting around the UN World Heritage Preah Vihear temple to act as ceasefire monitors, but the Thai army blocked their arrival.
Bangkok has consistently pushed for bilateral talks to resolve the dispute with Cambodia, while Phnom Penh has said only outside help can orchestrate an end to the repeated clashes.
The new outbreak of hostilities erupted on Friday near the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey Hindu temples, about 90 miles to the east of February’s fighting. After a lull during much of Sunday it reignited in the evening and continued into Monday morning, leaving one soldier dead on each side.
Cambodia has accused Thailand of damaging the two temples with artillery fire and shooting shells up to 20 miles inside its territory. Seventeen thousand villagers have moved to safe areas on the Cambodian side, while 30,000 Thais have sought shelter away from the fighting.
It is not immediately clear what sparked the latest round of fighting, but both sides have in the past used the emotive territorial issue to stoke nationalist fervour.
Analysts point to the fact that with an election due in Thailand before July, the fighting could bolster support among hard-line nationalists for prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government, which faces an uphill task to win re-election.