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Friday, July 18, 2008

PAD blames officials for allowing clash near temple

A leader of the Bangkok-based People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on Friday blamed government officials for failing to prevent a clash between members of his group with local residents a Thai province bordering Cambodia due to differing opinions regarding the disputed ancient temple.

Pipop Thongchai, a core leader of the PAD, claimed that the clash which took place Thursday between members of his group and local people in Si Sa Ket province near the Preah Vihear temple occurred because politicians in the province wanted it to happen.

"It is the duty of the Si Sa Ket provincial governor and police to prevent the clash in which a number of persons from both sides were injured," Mr. Pipop said, adding that the authorities must find the instigators and take legal action.

The PAD protesters on Thursday traveled in a cavalcade of over 100 vehicles heading for Preah Vihear temple to protest against Cambodia's listing of the 11th century temple as a World Heritage Site, awarded by UNESCO World Heritage Committee earlier this month.

But the intending protesters were confronted with local people before reaching the temple and the clash ensued.

Referring to three Thais who were briefly detained by Cambodian soldiers after they had crossed into Cambodia, Mr Pipop said Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej should not see the issue as an insane matter and former governments and senior military officers were to blame for not solving the border demarcation problem.

Mr Samak, also defence minister, on Thursday publicly admonished those three Thais -- two Buddhist laymen and a monk -- who purposely crossed the disputed Thai-Cambodian border at Preah Vihear of thoughtlessly inciting a military standoff, while adding that the PAD is behaving in a similar manner in attempting to provoke a military coup.

"Up till now the prime minister hasn't shown any policy towards solving the disputed 4.6 square kilometres surrounding the temple to the UNESCO or to the Cambodian government, even after the court issued an injunction against the cabinet resolution endorsing the Thai-Cambodian joint communiqué," Mr Pipop said.

It is now about time for the Thai military to confer with the government that the barbed wire installed by soldiers must be moved closer to the border and away from the disputed zone otherwise the government in Phnom Penh will consider that the area belongs to Cambodia, Mr Pipop said. (TNA)

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Montagnards stage Phnom Penh protest

Dozens of Vietnamese asylum seekers have staged a protest in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, against the forced return of some of their friends and relatives.

The demonstration by the mainly Christian tribespeople from Vietnam's Central Highlands was triggered by the recent repatriation of 28 refugees.

The four-hour protest ended when 40 armed riot police arrived on the scene and threatened to break up the rally.

The Montagnards fled to Cambodia in 2001 after staging anti-Vietnamese government demonstrations over land rights and religious freedom.

Vietnam's government has given assurances that returnees will not face discrimination.

Around 450 Montagnards are in United Nations holding centres in Phnom Penh while their refugee claims are being processed.
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Reception marks golden jubilee of China-Cambodia ties

BEIJING, An official reception was held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Cambodia here on Friday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi addressed the reception, saying the two nations enjoyed a long-lasting friendship; to further grow the comprehensive partnership of cooperation is both the firm policy of the Chinese government and the common desire of the two peoples.

He said the Chinese government and people attached great importance to China-Cambodia relations. China was willing to work with Cambodia to push forward the traditional friendship, deepen mutually-beneficial cooperation, promote common development and make new progress to regional peace and prosperity.

Khek M. Caimealy, the Cambodian Ambassador to China, said since the establishment of diplomatic relations, the strong bonds of friendship, mutual solidarity, cooperation and assistance had never ceased to develop and strengthen.

She reaffirmed Cambodia adhered to the one-China policy and wished the Beijing Olympic Games a complete success.

Some 200 people from China and Cambodia and some ambassadors of other countries to China attended the reception.
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Thai-Cambodian border talks to begin soon

The Cambodian and Thai governments have agreed to hold a top-level meeting in Thailand's border province of Sa Keaw next Monday to ease border tensions. Both countries have increased their troops build-up in areas near the Preah Vihear temple since the ancient Cambodian temple was designated as a World Heritage site a week ago.

The listing of the 900 year-old Khmer-style Hindu temple is a source of great pride for Cambodians, but much annoyance to Thais. The Thai government's endorsement supporting Cambodia's bid has only earned itself criticism that it is jeopardizing the country's claim to land near the temple. Massive protests since then have forced Thailand's Foreign Minister to resign and prompted the government to take action in line with the surge of nationalism.

Thai troops near the Preah Vihear Temple had increased to 400 on Thursday. And the number of Cambodian troops patrolling there is twice as many.

Such a stand-off is creating a nervous situation in the border area. On Thursday, clashes broke out between a group of anti-government demonstrators and local villagers on Thai side of the border about 8 kilometers from the temple. Authorities say at least 10 people were injured.

Sam Sothavry, the Cambodian Commander at Preah Vihear Temple says, "I suggested that we should stop moving troops into the areas in order to keep the situation normal while waiting for solutions from the top leaders and not allowing civilians to enter."

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is pinning hopes on the two country's high-level meeting slated for Monday. In a letter to his Thai counterpart Samak Sundaravej, he says the stand-off is very bad for the bilateral relations and has urged Thai troops to withdraw immediately.

For Monday's meeting, the Cambodian delegation will be led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense Tea Banh. And the Thai side will probably be headed by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Both countries want to get things back to normal in the area soon.

The temple has been a source of tension for over forty five years since the International Court of Justice ruled that it belongs to Cambodia.

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Cambodia-Thailand dispute worsens


PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian general said a border standoff between his soldiers and Thai troops came close to a shoot-out overnight as the confrontation over disputed territory surrounding an ancient temple entered its fourth day Friday.

The dispute is centered around Cambodia's 11th century Hindu temple Preah Vihear and came to a head last week when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application for World Heritage Site status for the site. Thai activists fear the new status will undermine Thailand's claim to nearby land.

Thai soldiers entered the surrounding area on Tuesday, staking out positions at a Buddhist temple compound nearby. However, some resident Cambodian monks remained and Cambodian soldiers have continued to visit them even after the Thais arrived.

A large group of Cambodian troops came to the compound Thursday planning to spend the night, and the two sides raised their rifles at each other when the Thais moved to evict them in an incident lasting about 10 minutes before the Cambodians departed, Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo said.

"We exercised patience to prevent weapons from being fired," he said.

The standoff is the latest in a long-standing conflict over frontier territory that has never been fully demarcated. Both countries have agreed to hold defense minister talks next Monday in Thailand to avoid military action.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Thursday saying that relations have been "worsening" since Thai troops "encroached on our territory" on Tuesday, and asked Samak to pull them back.

Both countries have massed troops in the area.

"The deteriorating situation is very bad for the relations between our two countries," Hun Sen wrote.

The Thai government sent troops to the area after anti-government demonstrators made an issue of the disputed territory near the temple, decrying the government's endorsement of Cambodia's UNESCO application.

To some extent, the demonstrators appear to be playing to nationalist sentiment to gain support for their larger goal of unseating Samak, whom they accuse of being a proxy for toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The border standoff began after three of the protesters crossed into Cambodia on Tuesday to visit the temple and were briefly detained.

Soon afterward, Thai troops deployed to the border. The Thai army has been tightlipped about reasons behind the troop movements.

The Thai Foreign Ministry has said the troops are ensuring that any protests there are done in an "orderly manner," and that the troops are protecting Thai sovereignty, though it was unclear how it has been threatened.

About 400 Thai troops are in the area, facing about twice as many Cambodians, Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo said Thursday.

Thursday night's incident, the first time the two sides pointed weapons at each other, occurred after 61 monks along with 13 nuns and lay people came to the Buddhist pagoda some 220 yards west of the Preah Vihear complex to celebrate the start of Buddhist Lent.

Chea Keo said about 50 Cambodian troops entered the pagoda hoping to stay the night to provide security for the monks and nuns, but the Thai soldiers moved to evict them, prompting the gun-pointing.

The only clashes so far have been between Thai protesters and Thai villagers who resent their lands becoming ground-zero for a political battle.

Samak has condemned the Thai protesters for "trying to ignite a conflict." But he has not said anything about why the troops moved to the border.

Associated Press writers Sutin Wannabovorn and Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok, and Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh contributed to this report.

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