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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cambodia To Seek French Maps of Border

In this photo taken Nov. 7, 2008, a Cambodian deminer, holds a map of a disputed border at an entrance of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple in a world heritage site near the Cambodian-Thai border.

Cambodia’s ambassador will seek to accept a French offer to make maps available from the French-colonial period that could clarify border disputes at the heart of military clashes between Thailand and Cambodia.

On Wednesday, France offered its maps to help resolve border disputes that have simmered over on multiple occasions since July 2008, when the border temple of Preah Vihear was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage site, leading up to intense fighting over the weekend that left at least 10 dead.

Thailand disputes Cambodian claims to border areas surrounding the temple. But Cambodia has maintained the borders were clearly staked out under a French treaty with the government of what was then Siam at the turn of the 20th Century.

Thailand claims that it does not recognize some of the maps and instead uses its own surveys of the border area. That leaves a critical 4.6-kilometer stretch west of the 11th-Century Preah Vihear temple as an area of contention where three days of fighting erupted on Feb. 5.

On Thursday Cambodia ordered its ambassador in Paris to reach out to the French Foreign Ministry to discuss the maps, said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters in Paris on Wednesday France would provide the maps “to any country that asks us to consult them or to make a copy of these documents,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Thai authorities dismissed the offer on Thursday, the Bangkok Post reported.

Koy Kuong said the French maps are “internationally recognized” and accused Thailand of an “ambition to capture Cambodian territory.”

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Historic temple caught in Thai-Cambodia crossfire

An overview of Cambodia's 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple, UNESCO's World Heritage, is seen in Preah Vihear province, about 245 kilometres north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The Associated Press

Date: Thursday Feb. 10, 2011 10:01 AM ET

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia — High on a cliff overlooking the jungles of northern Cambodia, heavily armed troops crouch in fortified bunkers on the grounds of an ancient temple turned modern-day battlefield.

The stone remains of Preah Vihear, built nearly 1,000 years ago, are supposed to be a protected UN World Heritage site. Instead they are at the heart of a dangerous tug-of-war between Cambodia and Thailand — one that has taken at least eight lives and forced 15,000 to flee in four days of clashes recently.

The battle over a hilly patch of land in this remote countryside is rooted in a decades-old border dispute that has fueled nationalist passions and been driven by domestic politics and conspiracy theories on both sides.

A fragile truce has held since Monday night, but the dispute remains unsettled, and troops are digging in for another round of combat.

The Cambodians filled fresh sandbags earlier this week, stacking them meticulously in 10 bunkers along one of the temple's low outer walls. It looks out over a ravine toward Thailand's sandbagged foxholes on the other side.

"We're just praying in our hearts for this to be over," said Hun Demong, a Buddhist monk who fled into a Cambodian army bunker after the fighting broke out on Feb. 4. "We only hope it will not start again."

With ornamental panels dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, Preah Vihear was a stunning achievement of the Angkorean empire, whose realm once took in parts of modern-day Thailand and Vietnam.

When the latest firing stopped, the great stone temple itself stood as a silent victim, small chunks of its darkened gray walls blown off by shrapnel from shells fired from Thailand.

The tail of an exploded rocket lay at the feet of a squatting Cambodian soldier atop the 160-step stairway at the temple's entrance. Along a stone causeway leading farther into the complex, an empty gun battery looked out over a charred hillside, its shredded trees and gnarled saplings bearing testament to the ferocity of the fighting.

A pool of dried blood spattered the floor under a sandstone archway, the spot one mortally wounded soldier was carried to by comrades after being hit by an artillery blast.

There is no simple answer to what sparked the latest fighting.

The temple has been the subject of an intense boundary dispute since French colonial forces withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the cliff-top structure was inside Cambodia. However, sovereignty of the land surrounding it -- an area less than five square kilometres -- has never been resolved.

Tensions rose in 2008 after UNESCO accepted Cambodia's bid to list the temple as a World Heritage Site — a move that stirred nationalist outrage and protests in Thailand.

Since then, armies from the two nations have clashed five times; the latest battle, the most intense and sustained so far, was the first time artillery and mortars were used.

"I don't know what started it, but both sides are edgy, self-righteous and heavily armed," said David Chandler, a Cambodia expert at Monash University in Australia.

Domestic politics also appear to play a role.

In Bangkok, the Thai capital, the so-called Yellow Shirt protesters have launched a sit-in outside government buildings, in part to demand the country take a tough stand on Preah Vihear. The group is widely seen as playing the patriotism card in a bid to exercise more influence over politics at home.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985, also is able to harness the dispute to build political support. Even the leading opposition party issued a statement condemning Thai "aggression" and supporting Hun Sen's plea for U.N. intervention.

Amid the fighting last weekend, Cambodia wrote to UNESCO condemning the damage caused by Thai artillery and rockets, which hit some walls and snapped steel belts helping to hold up fragile archways but don't appear to have caused major structural damage.

Thailand's foreign minister shot back with his own letter to the UN body, warning that Cambodia's use of the area as "a military base ... would expose the temple to grave danger and destruction."

Gen. Chea Tara, who commands the Cambodian troops at the temple, defended their presence.

"If we were not here to defend it, Thailand would overrun it," he told The Associated Press. "Our objective is only to protect our land. We do not want war."

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said she would send a mission to assess the situation. Thailand opposes the visit, saying it will make the situation worse.

Even if there is no more combat, the presence of the Cambodian army, which has patrolled the temple complex for at least two years, risks degrading the site further.

Beside a "Do Not Touch" sign, one Cambodian soldier lay on a hammock tied to heavy wooden beams meant to keep the temple's stone pillars from falling.

Some troops squatted in stone windows, flicking ashes below. Dozens sat on temple ledges, cooking rice and laying meat on stone slabs to dry. A few bathed with jugs of water at the foot of what was once a luxurious pool, now stacked with green crates of ammunition. Gas-powered generators powering cell phones and radios hummed.

Cambodia had hoped Preah Vihear would attract more tourists to the impoverished nation. It was built about 100 years before the country's famous temples of Angkor Wat, just a few hours up the road and crowded with hordes of camera-snapping tourists.

Preah Vihear gets only a handful of visitors -- and none now.

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UN Council to hold closed meeting on Thai-Cambodia clashes

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council will hold a closed meeting on Monday on border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia with the foreign ministers from the two nations, diplomats said.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Cambodia's Hor Namhong and Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has been trying to mediate in the dispute, are expected to speak to the council, diplomats said.

A spokesman for the Brazilian mission, which holds the Security Council presidency for February, said Monday's meeting would be behind closed doors.

Thailand and Cambodia have blamed each other for the clashes around the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, which have left at least eight dead in the past week.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen sought an urgent Security Council meeting and called for a UN buffer force to be put in place. Thailand has said the dispute should sorted out between the two countries.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke with the prime ministers of Thailand and Cambodia on Tuesday again offered new UN help to negotiate a peace deal.

- AFP/de
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Task force denies Thai troops used cluster bombs

The Suranaree Task Force has strenuously denied an accusation that Thai troops used cluster bombs during the border clashes with Cambodia.

Chinnakaj Rattanajitti, the task force's field spokesman, said yesterday the allegation that cluster bombs were used was misinformation.

The Cambodian government's demining agency, Cambodia Mine Action Centre, claimed earlier this week that its staff had discovered the controversial bomblets in Cambodian territory near the Preah Vihear temple following the clashes with Thailand that began last week, leaving at least eight people dead.

The Thai officer said the military strictly followed the rules of engagement and other related United Nations charters.

"No such weapon is used. It is not part of military operations," Col Chinnakaj said.

Cluster bombs, launched from the ground or dropped from the air, split open before impact to scatter multiple bomblets over a wide area. Such bomblets often lie dormant for years before exploding, maiming or killing civilians who happen upon them.

Col Chinnakaj yesterday warned residents of violence-torn villages to be careful about chemicals from rocket fragments when they cleaned up.

He said some villagers and troops suffered blisters after they came into contact with chemicals from the fragments of rockets fired from BM21 launchers by Cambodian troops.

He said the Thailand Mine Action Centre had been asked to collect shrapnel from the rockets and artillery shells for examination.

Meanwhile, the air force yesterday admitted that fighter jets taking part in the Cobra Gold exercise flew too close to the border during a drill.

Two F16 fighters were spotted yesterday afternoon near the border in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district where border tensions remain high.

Fighter jets should not fly within 10km of the border under the rules of engagement.

Air force chief-of-staff Prajin Jantong said there was a misunderstanding about the flight plans by the participating countries.

He said the fighter jets did not cross the border or enter the 4.6 square kilometre area and were alerted as soon as they neared the border.

About 50 fighter jets from the US, Thailand and Singapore are taking part in the annual exercise which is based at Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima.
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Thai-Cambodia Fighting Slows Border Trade, Traffic

Cambodians displaced by the Thai-Cambodia border clashes take shelter at a temporary camp at Wat Srenoy, in Siem Reap province' Varin district, around 70 kilometers from Siem Reap on February 09, 2011.

The Thai-Cambodia border is at an uneasy calm after recent deadly clashes near disputed territory left several people dead and scores injured. Thousands on both sides have fled the area. The fighting led to a dramatic drop in the number of tourists and traders crossing the border.

At the Chong Jom market on the Thai-Cambodia border, Cambodian shopkeeper Kaew Yungurn squeezes auto polish onto a rag. He demonstrates his product for a couple journalists and onlookers on a sample piece of a car hood.

As he works, Kaew says sometimes you have to apply two coats of the white liquid, which cost $6 a bottle. But now he shows how it can repair minor scratches.

Unfortunately, the normally busy market that brings together Thai and Cambodian traders is almost empty and Kaew has no customers.

When fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops broke out last Friday, hundreds of shops were abandoned as people fled for safety.

On Wednesday, most shops remained closed.

He says he wants both sides to hold talks so he can get back to business as soon as possible.

At the Chong Sangum immigration checkpoint, the number of people crossing the border has dropped from 50 to fewer than 10 a day.

Immigration Bureau Deputy Commissioner Pansak Kasemsant says there have been no tourists since Friday.

He says the number of tourists decreased because of the unclear situation. But actually, he says, there is no fighting here. The place where the problem occurs is 90 kilometers from this checkpoint.

The clashes erupted near disputed territory surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu Khmer temple known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand.

Thailand and Cambodia have soldiers stationed near the temple, leading to occasional exchanges of fire.

The weekend fighting was the worst in years with both sides shooting artillery and machine guns.

Several people were killed, scores injured, and thousands of villagers fled the border.

In 1962, the International Court ruled the temple lies in Cambodia, but a key access point is in Thailand. A dispute over the border near the access point lay dormant for decades, until in 2008, when the United Nations granted the temple World Heritage status, at Cambodia’s request.

The designation angered some Thai nationalists, and there have been periodic military clashes around the area since then. Disputes over other parts of the border also have flared up.

In Bangkok, a group of nationalists is holding a protest around the main government offices. They demand that Thailand abandon a memorandum of understanding it signed with Cambodia in 2000 on settling border disputes.

Despite the tensions, at least one group of Thai visitors on Wednesday crossed into Cambodia.

Thaveesilp Suvwattana is a history professor at Thailand's Mahasarakham University.

He is taking his master's degree students to learn about Thailand and Cambodia's shared culture and history.

"If you want to know about Thai history, [as] part of that you should know about Cambodia, the Khmer, I can say Khmer history, too, because they used to control our land in Thailand, you know, before. And a lot of things, ruins, things, and other things, you know, just come from Khmer culture," he said.

Thaveesilp says the border dispute is about politics and nationalism with people on both sides interpreting history for their own hidden political agendas.

He says Thailand and Cambodia should accept the past, move on from historical disputes, and hold talks to build a peaceful future as neighbors.
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Business to aid local youth water effort in Cambodia

By Allison Wall

A group of local youth is embarking on a mission trip, and a local business is stepping up in a big way.

Twelve youth and four adults from the First Baptist Church will be heading to Cambodia from March 1 to 15.

"(We) have partnered up with Samaritan's Purse and we are going to work alongside some local people in manufacturing and installing bio-fan filters," said Darren Bute, youth pastor at First Baptist Church. "We'll also do some eye clinics while we are there and bringing some prescription glasses over to people."

While the youth have raised money for the past several months, they are still shy of their goal, but Bute said Quizno's is stepping up on Saturday to help out with the fundraising.

"Quizno's is actually giving us their store for a day this coming Saturday," said Bute. "We're super excited by that. We thought that was an amazing deal. It's great seeing people pitch in and help out. Our goal, or Quizno's, is hopefully $10,000. We are probably about $20,000 shy right now so we are trying to raise that money. (We're) going around and trying to do everything we can to drum up some donations."

Quizno's located at Suite 102-7701 44 Street will donate food and operational costs on Saturday, Feb. 12.

"Basically it's because there are three teenagers that have been working here almost since I opened and … they are all going on the trip to Cambodia so they were asking if we would donate bottles," said manager Thane Burgoyne. "I thought I could do something a little more and so I just organized it through Darren Bute, the youth pastor from the church there. They are all coming in. They are volunteering their time and Quizno's is foregoing their royalties for that day, and then I'm donating the food and they are turning it into money for their trip."

The youth will also have a donation booth set up at Quizno's on Saturday.
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