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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PM blames Thaksin, Hun Sen for conflict

The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over Preah Vihear Temple is spreading into wider political arenas as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva shifts blame on the Pheu Thai Party and its de-facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra, as well as Cambodian premier Hun Sen, who has personal relations with Thaksin.

Democrat leader Abhisit said yesterday that Hun Sen wanted Thai voters to change the government and end the dispute with Cambodia because the Cambodian leader has good ties with Thaksin.

"But I want the voters to choose the Democrats as we protect the territory, although it is against the wishes of a leader in a neighbouring country," Abhisit told reporters while campaigning in Samut Sakhon.

Abhisit earlier blamed Thaksin's associates, including former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and the opposition Pheu Thai Party, for his failure to block Cambodia's ambitions to restore and repair the Preah Vihear Temple. He said Thaksin's group has close relations with Cambodia and supports its plan for the temple.

The war of words through the media has gone international after Thailand and Cambodia crossed swords over the temple's inscription at the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee in Paris last week.

Cambodian premier Hun Sen reportedly accused Thailand of using the dispute for domestic political gains.

The Thai military yesterday dismissed reports of planning to launch an attack on neighbouring Cambodia, using the border conflict at the Preah Vihear Temple as a pretext, to jeopardise the July 3 election.

Army chief Prayut Chan-ocha has issued a clear policy instruction not to invade other countries, said First Army Region Commander Lt-General Udomdej Sitabutr. "We will retaliate only when attacked."

Local media has reported over the past days that the border is highly tense after Thailand announced its withdrawal from |the World Heritage Convention.

Military officials and politicians contesting the election were speculating on the threat of a military clash along the border with Cambodia, alarming residents along border areas.

Udomdej said the Cambodian military has moved some infantry units closer to Sa Kaew, but there has been no report of a large reinforcement of armoured vehicles and heavy weapons.

However, the commander who visited the border province yesterday ordered Thai troops to step up security measures, including a strict check on people and vehicles at border checkpoints and is seeking negotiations with Cambodian counterparts to ease problems.

"There is plenty of rumour in both countries now, but we are very careful to prevent such talk from affecting our relations with a neighbouring country," Commander Udomdej said. "Now relations are normal and we are engaging with our Cambodian counterparts at all levels," he said.

Abhisit Vejjajiva said his caretaker government would not exploit the conflict with Cambodia as an excuse to delay the election.

"We have proved before the international community several times that we did not trigger the military conflict and we do not have a policy to encroach into any country," Abhisit said.

As Thailand walked out of the session after failing in the diplomatic struggle to block Cambodia's move to restore the temple, the focus moved more to the military front.

On Monday, the Thai Second Army Region's spokesman Colonel Prawit Hookaew said that there was some redeployment and reinforcement of Cambodian troops along the border in reaction to the outcome in Paris.

However, Cambodia's Defence Ministry on Tuesday rejected the report of any movement of troops and weapons, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

"The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces absolutely rejects this fabrication by Thai troops to slander Cambodia and to prepare a scenario to confuse and lie to national and international communities," the ministry said in a statement.

"This fabricated information by Thai troops is just a groundless argument, aimed at future attacks and invasion of Cambodian territory," it added.

However, Col Prawit yesterday softened his tone saying there was only a minor rotation of Cambodian troops near Si Sa Ket province, and there was no significant shift of power in the border area.

"[But] we are ready and standing by in our stations," he said. "If anything happens, we will definitely be able to protect our border."
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