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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cambodia, Thailand in standoff over second temple

By Sopeng Cheang

Cambodia said Sunday that Thai soldiers are occupying a second temple site along on their border in an escalation of an ongoing armed standoff that nearly led to clashes between the neighbors last month.

Maj. Sim Sokha, a Cambodian border protection unit deputy commander, said about 70 Thai soldiers on Thursday occupied the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple in a northwestern border region of Cambodia.

Maj. Taveesak Boonrakchart, a spokesman for the Thai army in the disputed area, denied the allegations of an incursion. He said troops from both countries have been in the area for years.

The temple is several hundred miles west of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby land.

Sim Sokha said Thai soldiers have been deployed in an 80-yard radius around the temple grounds and have prevented Cambodian troops from entering. About 40 Cambodian soldiers are in close proximity to the Thai troops, he said.

'They (Thai troops) said they will pull back only when the issue near Preah Vihear temple is resolved,' Sim Sokha said by telephone from Oddar Meanchey province, about 290 miles northwest of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

He said the Cambodian soldiers have been given orders to exercise restraint and wait for the government to try to resolve the issue with Thailand.

Khieu Kanharith, the chief Cambodian government spokesman, said he was aware of a new troop movement but was unable to give details. He said his government will try to solve the issue through peaceful means.

Although it is not as well known as the Angkor or Preah Vihear temples, Ta Moan Thom is part of the architectural wonders of the ancient Khmer empire.

It was built in the 13th century as a rest house along a road linking the ancient Angkor city with what is currently northeastern Thailand, said Chuch Phoeun of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.

The border dispute erupted last month near the Hindu-style Preah Vihear when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking anti-government demonstrations by Thais near the temple. Thailand then sent troops to the border area.

Thai government critics fear the temple's new status will jeopardize their country's claims to land adjacent to the site.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand remain at a pagoda near the temple complex, despite a tentative agreement reached by foreign ministers last Monday to redeploy them in an effort to ease tensions.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear and the land it occupies to Cambodia. The decision still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex.

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Thailand, Cambodia trade claims over second disputed ruin

BANGKOK (AFP) — Officials from Thailand and Cambodia traded claims Sunday over a second disputed Khmer ruin on their border, as the two nations remained at loggerheads in another territorial dispute.

Ta Muen Thom ruin sits on one of many disputed areas along the border, and depending on who you ask lies either in Thailand's northeastern Surin province or Cambodia's northern Uddor Meanchey province.

Both Cambodian and Thai officials on Sunday laid claim to the ruin, but denied that they had increased troop numbers there since a military stand-off erupted last month over the more well-known Khmer ruin of Preah Vihear.

"We have a paramilitary post which has been there for several years," said Major General Sujit Sithiprabha, Thai army commander for the Cambodian border.

"Prasart Ta Muen Thom belongs to us. We have to have soldiers to take care of the area which belongs to us."

Var Kimhong, chairman of the Cambodia Border Committee, conceded that Thai soldiers were stationed in the ruin, but said this was not a "new thing".

"Ta Muen is in our territory, but since 1998 Thailand took a chance to occupy it by claiming that they came to conserve it," he told AFP.

He said that in 2003 he told Thai troops that Ta Muen belonged to Cambodia and asked them to withdraw, and Thailand agreed to pull out as soon as Cambodia built proper roads to the temple.

More than 1,000 Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been positioned close to the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, east of Ta Muen Thom, since July 15 when Thai protesters attempted to reach the site from a closed border point.

During talks last Monday, Cambodia and Thailand both said they were willing to stand down the troops on the border, but neither have shown signs of making the first move.

Major General Sujit denied that Thailand was building up forces in any other border areas, and said they were waiting for word from the government on when to stand down the soldiers at Preah Vihear.

"We have not increased soldiers or invaded into a neighbouring country as we are waiting for the redeployment," he said.
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Cambodia welcomes Thai boycott of certain commercial exchange

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Commerce Minister ChamPrasidh on Sunday welcomed the Thai government's recent decision to stop its fruit export to Cambodia and cancel its annual product exhibition in the kingdom.

"Cambodia will not be affected" by this decision, he told Xinhua at the airport while receiving a senior Kuwaiti delegation.

It is a good thing that they stop fruit export and cancel product exhibition, because some Cambodians would become angry and destroy those products on show if they didn't do so, he said.

"It could make turmoil," he said, adding that the 20-day-long military standoff between the two countries at the border area has made the Cambodian people reluctant to buy Thai products.

Dispute over the ownership of the Preah Vihear Temple in the eponymous Cambodian province and the land around it has propelled both sides to station over a thousand troops at the border area since July 15. All diplomatic efforts have failed so far to retrieve the situation.

Trade volume between Cambodia and Thailand stood at 1.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2007, a 10.56 percent increase over 2006, according to the figures released by the Cambodian Commerce Ministry in March this year.
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