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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cambodia complains to UN over temple row with Thais

PHNOM PENH, July 20 (Reuters) - Cambodia has complained to the U.N. Security Council about its military standoff with Thailand over an ancient temple on their disputed border.

Hundreds of Thai and Cambodian troops faced each other at the Preah Vihear temple for a sixth day on Sunday, a standoff that some fear could turn violent.

In a letter sent to council members on Friday and released to the media on Sunday, Cambodia's U.N. ambassador, Sea Kosal, said Thai troops had been occupying Cambodian territory about 300 metres from the 900-year-old temple since last Tuesday.

The temple, perched on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between the two nations, has been a source of tension since the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, a decision that still angers Thais.

At the heart of the current dispute is a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) area around the temple that is claimed by both sides.

"While Cambodia exercises maximum restraint to avoid armed confrontation, we cannot ignore that Thai military provocation is to create a de facto "overlapping area" that legally does not exist on Cambodia soil," Sea Kosal said.

Thai troops moved into the disputed area last Tuesday after three Thai protesters were detained by Cambodian soldiers as they tried to plant a Thai flag on the temple.

The two defence ministers will meet in Thailand on Monday to try to end the impasse, which has revived memories of a 2003 spat over another Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, which saw a nationalist mob setting fire to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

Analysts say domestic politics in Thailand, where the temple is known as Khao Pra Viharn, has played a key role in fuelling the border dispute.

Preah Vihear's listing as a World Heritage site this month triggered a political uproar in Bangkok, where the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) accused the government of selling out Thailand's history by initially backing the listing.

The PAD, a coalition of activists and royalists, is waging a street campaign against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, whom they accuse of being a proxy of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Mariam Karouny)

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Cambodia requests mediators


Cambodia’s Defense Ministry announced it would fly military attaches from China, the US and other countries yet to be named to the Preah Vihear temple complex to view a border dispute first hand, local television announced yesterday.

The Khmer-language private television station CTN made the announcement in a lunchtime bulletin, adding that the tour of the temple by the international delegation would take place imminently and would be led by Cambodian armed forces chief Sao Sokha.

Although private, CTN is owned by powerful businessman Kith Meng and is viewed as close to the government.

Thailand has maintained the temple is in a disputed no man’s land and that a Thai presence in the area was not breaching Cambodian sovereignty. Cambodia disagreed and asked for the tour by international observers.

Meanwhile CTN announced Thai troops had withdrawn from a pagoda a few hundred meters from Preah Vihear and had camped in nearby jungle.

Tensions have been running high on the border since Cambodia asked UNESCO to list the temple as a World Heritage site despite there being a dispute over a 4.6km swath of land nearby.

UNESCO obliged earlier this month, but tensions spilled over on Tuesday when Cambodia briefly detained then released three Thais it said had illegally crossed the border, prompting first dozens, and then hundreds of Thai troops to follow in an alleged incursion.

On Friday, Thailand warned the situation was deteriorating but Cambodia has said it will not be intimidated.

“I would rather lose my life than lose my country’s territory,” veteran parliamentarian Cheam Yeap of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party said regarding the temple on Friday.

Meanwhile, Cambodia and Thailand continued to reinforce their troops along the disputed section of border area near the temple yesterday, even as they prepared for talks to avert a military confrontation.

Some 300 more Cambodian soldiers and 100 Thais were seen by reporters arriving near Preah Vihear late on Friday, although commanders declined to confirm those numbers.

Earlier, Cambodian Brigadier General Chea Keo said Cambodia had about 800 troops against 400 Thai soldiers in the area as the standoff entered a fifth day.

The countries are to meet tomorrow in an attempt to defuse the conflict over territory surrounding the ancient temple. Thai activists fear the World Heritage status of the temple will undermine Thailand’s claim to nearby land since the border has never been demarcated.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said the area around a Buddhist pagoda where Thai troops have been stationed since Tuesday belongs to Thailand.

Cambodia’s Chea Keo said troops from the opposing forces were on the brink of a shoot-out on Thursday night when Cambodian monks gathered to celebrate Buddhist lent at the pagoda about 200m from the ancient temple.

The incident occurred when Thai troops tried to evict about 50 Cambodian soldiers from the compound of the Buddhist pagoda, where they sought to camp for the night to provide security for the monks.
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Cambodia seeks UN help over spat with Thailand

Leslie Koh
The Straits Times

Cambodia has asked the United Nations to intervene in its border dispute with Thailand, a Thai official said yesterday, as Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan called for 'maximum restraint' in the stand-off between the two neighbours.

A quick end to the crisis is critical as around 1,000 Cambodian troops and more than 500 Thai soldiers continue to face each other, guns drawn, on the disputed land.

"The Thai ambassador to the UN has reported to the Thai government that Cambodia has filed a complaint with the UN over the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia," Thai government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat said.

Cambodia wanted the UN to intervene, he told reporters. The Thai government would study the complaint before sending a letter to UN officials, he added.

The statement came on a day when officials from the United States, China, France and Viet Nam flew by helicopter to the disputed territory to add diplomatic pressure for an end to the stand-off.

Meanwhile, Dr Surin, a former Thai foreign minister, called on his country and Cambodia to resolve the issue. The secretary-general of the regional grouping urged ministers from the two countries to talk. Asean leaders are arriving in Singapore this weekend for a ministerial meeting that starts tomorrow (July 21).

"The ministers may wish to address the issue...trying to encourage early resolution and maximum restraint, in order to avoid any repercussions on the image of the organisation," he told reporters after a meeting of senior Asean officials at the Shangri-La Hotel.

His remarks came as Thailand and Cambodia continued to reinforce troops yesterday near an ancient temple on the border. Ironically, the tense situation comes just as Asean leaders at the meeting plan to discuss further integration and cooperation, among other things.

Pointing to a possible bilateral meeting between the Thai and Cambodian ministers, Dr Surin said: "I think the ministers certainly will discuss the issue and try to encourage reconciliation as soon as possible."

The tension could put Asean solidarity to the test, although a Malaysian official said yesterday (July 19) that there were "no problems at all" when both countries' senior officials met at Asean meetings here last week.

The military stand-off started last Tuesday, after Cambodia arrested three Thais who it said had illegally crossed the border to protest against Cambodian ownership of the Preah Vihear temple. The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but the land around it remains in dispute.

The two prime ministers, Cambodia's Hun Sen and Thailand's Samak Sundaravej, have called for the removal of troops ahead of a meeting between military leaders tomorrow in Thailand to resolve the issue. But both maintain respective ownership of the disputed area.

The Phnom Penh Post reported some villagers in the area fleeing, fearing a clash between the troops. About 300 Thai workers based near the border have also returned home.Additional reporting by Wong Mei Ling/Additional information from agencies
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Little hope for talks to resolve spat with Thailand: Cambodian Gen

PREAH VIHEAR - A CAMBODIAN general said on Sunday that he has little hope that upcoming talks between his government and Thailand will resolve a tense border dispute that has seen hundreds of troops face off around an ancient temple.

Cambodian Brig Gen Chea Keo said Thai troops have deployed an artillery piece about one kilometre northeast of Preah Vihear temple - the latest escalation ahead of Monday's meeting aimed at averting a military confrontation.

'Regarding the talks tomorrow, we have little hope about the outcome,' Brig Gen Chea Keo said.

He said the reason for his pessimism stems from a recent counterclaim by Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej that the area around a Buddhist pagoda near the historic temple belongs to Thailand. Thai troops have been stationed at the pagoda since Tuesday.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to Mr Samak on Thursday saying relations had been 'worsening' since Thai troops 'encroached on our territory,' and asked him to pull them back.

Responding to his Cambodian counterpart, Mr Samak said the area around the pagoda referred to in the letter 'is within the Thai territory,' according to a statement on Saturday from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While urging both sides to exercise restraint, Mr Samak's letter said the settlement of Cambodians in that area constitutes 'a continued violation of Thailand's sovereignty and territorial integrity.' Despite their pledge to hold talks on Monday in Thailand to try to defuse the tensions, both Cambodia and Thailand have massed troops at the site.

'We continue to be on alert at all time. And at the same time, we keep instructing our soldiers to be patient and avoid being blamed for starting a war,' Brig Gen Chea Keo said on Sunday.

The conflict over territory surrounding Preah Vihear temple escalated when Unesco recently approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai activists fear the new status will undermine Thailand's claim to nearby land since the border has never been demarcated.

Troops from the opposing forces were on the brink of a shoot-out on Thursday night, which was avoided when Cambodians retreated from a site occupied by the Thais.

But opposing commanders and their troops have otherwise tried to defuse tensions, sometimes even sharing meals, snapping photographs and sleeping within easy sight of one another.

The dispute has taken a toll on tourism in the area, with the Thai side closed to visitors. It also is starting to hurt economic relations between the two neighbors. -- AP
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