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Nationalism fuelling Thai-Cambodian dispute

Nationalist fervour and political grandstanding are stoking a deadly border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia but both sides will be keen to avoid major hostilities, experts say.

world Updated: Feb 09, 2011 01:59 IST

Nationalist fervour and political grandstanding are stoking a deadly border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia but both sides will be keen to avoid major hostilities, experts say.

Although the exact trigger for a series of armed clashes in recent days is unclear, tensions have grown since seven Thais were arrested by Cambodia in December near the frontier for illegal entry.

Two of them were sentenced to long jail terms for spying, outraging nationalist Thais, who have held protests in Bangkok calling on their Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign.

Observers say recent cross-border fighting, focused on the area surrounding an ancient Khmer temple, is being used in both countries to stir patriotic sentiment with elections on the horizon. Yet while Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen has unleashed a torrent of fiery rhetoric, accusing Thailand of being an invading aggressor and calling for UN intervention, for Abhisit the standoff is seen as another unwanted headache.

"Hun Sen is deliberately playing this to vitalise nationalist sentiment and reinvigorate support for himself," said Professor William Case of the Hong Kong.

"Yellow Shirt" Thai nationalists turned out in their thousands over the weekend demanding Abhisit's resignation over the issue.

The royalist protest movement is strongly critical of Cambodia over issues such as the border row.