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Sunday, February 07, 2010

A close encounter

By The Nation

Thai, Cambodian authorities brace for Hun Sen's visit to Ta Muen Thom ruins

Thai and Cambodian authorities were busy preparing and bracing themselves yesterday for what promised to be extremely awkward diplomacy, with Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen set to visit the Ta Muen Thom ruins in Surin.

"We will act in accordance with prescribed procedures as a host and Thai representatives will be present to welcome Hun Sen upon his arrival," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.

The ancient Khmer temple straddles a mountain pass on the border and its ownership is disputed by Cambodia despite a border marker.

Abhisit said the Cambodian leader would be accorded the hospitality given to any foreign visitor.

A group of soldiers and provincial authorities met with Hun Sen's advance team in Surin to finalise the arrangements. The Cambodian team was led by Interior Secretary of State Khann Savoeum.

During the meeting, the Cambodian team sought and received permission to take about 100 visitors sightseeing to the ancient temple. It also informed the Thai side that there might be a temporary surge of 150 troops deployed opposite the temple due to the security requirements for the visit by Hun Sen.

After the Cambodian team left, about 400 yellow shirts led by Veera Somkwamkid were allowed to visit the temple.

Veera said his People's Alliance for Democracy would not stand idly by if Cambodia attempted to project itself as owner of the temple.

He vowed to organise a yellow-shirt welcoming committee to greet Hun Sen.

At the triangle border area of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, a group of Thai troops, provincial authorities and diplomats was present when the Cambodian side held a ceremony to pay respects to the deities.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Thai side had no objection to Hun Sen's visit to Thai territory if advance notice was given and permission granted and if the touring of the border was not meant to challenge Thai territorial integrity or usurp Thai sovereignty.

Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said Hun Sen made misleading accusations when he claimed Thailand harboured an intention to invade Cambodia. That remark was groundless and Hun Sen should retract his statement, he said.

Abhisit said the Thai government would not read too much into the move by Hun Sen and would maintain its good-neighbour policy to prevent violence from flaring up at the border.

He said Hun Sen's border visit might be prompted by a combination of factors such as domestic politics, the controversy over Preah Vihear Temple's listing as a World Heritage site and an attempt to sway Thailand.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who oversees security affairs, insisted that the Ta Muen Thom ruins were located on Thai soil and any visitor there, including Hun Sen, must not carry a weapon.

Prasong Nurak, who sits on the Senate committee on military affairs, said he believed that Hun Sen would not show up at Ta Muen Thom because as the leader of a foreign country, his visit would likely need to go through diplomatic channels and be handled by the Foreign Ministry.

A source said Hun Sen was in fact scheduled to inaugurate a village called Ta Muen on the Cambodian side today. That village is about four kilometres away from Ta Muen Thom.

"By the way, his programme is subject to change," the source added.
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