Thai rangers on a routine border patrol have tragically re-discovered a problem supposedly solved years ago. Ranger Niran Sutham, 28, became the latest victim of a landmine. He stepped on a device near the Cambodian border of Surin province, one of the hot spots where Thai and Cambodian troops fought two years ago.
The mine was not supposed to be there. Cambodia was a world leader in aggressively pursuing the 1997 Ottawa Treaty which banned all landmines. Thailand signed the treaty. Both countries removed all landmines and issued orders that none ever be planted again. Ranger Niran's 16-man patrol found 11 mines in addition to the one that crippled him. Someone placed the deadly explosives but no one is admitting it.
Thai officers identified the explosives as mines called TMN-1. Thai and other military forces state these weapons are made in Vietnam. The "Nato-standard" name identifies the origin of the mine as designed in the old Soviet Union. "TM" means that the mine was made as an anti-tank device. There are many models and offshoots of the TM family of mines. The addition of "N" means the mine has a second fuse, meant to be set as a booby-trap to make the mine blow up if it is discovered and moved before a man or tank detonates it.
The Cambodian statement about the mines said that country's armed forces had never had TMN-1 mines in their arsenal. There are a dozen explanations for the discrepancy. The initial Thai analysis could be wrong, the Cambodian military could call any given weapon by another _ Phnom Penh does not follow the Nato standard, for starters.
Thai authorities have so far not released photos or technical details of the mines they found. Cambodia, on the other hand, has provided no details of what mines its army has or had.
By coincidence, the mine explosion occurred a day after the Cambodian defence minister, Tea Banh, suggested or warned a reporter from this newspaper that the media should only print positive stories about Thai-Cambodian relations. Rather than spark a quarrel over the duties of news media and government ministers, the mine incident gives the Cambodian official the chance to show he believes what he says.
Specifically, it is time for other parties to step in. A full investigation by outsiders could reveal exactly what happened at the Surin frontier. With the help of Gen Tea Banh, as well as his Thai counterparts, the press could have a positive story on cross-border cooperation leading to the solution of a potentially dangerous situation.
Sixteen years after the worldwide ban on landmines, there are plenty of experts around who can help to settle this extremely serious dispute. The situation calls for the attention of medical, military and weapons experts from abroad to take full charge of an investigation. Failure to cooperate will virtually ensure negative images on the part of anyone blocking the probe.
There is nothing to be gained by a war of words. Some facts are clear, others are decidedly murky. Ranger Niran has been crippled for life in an incident that should not have happened _ and must not happen again.