UPDATE: Thai-Cambodian Military Standoff Over Preah Vihear Temple Role

This is the news update from the current standoff.

Political tensions driving temple row
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok



Both Thailand and Cambodia retain troops at the hill-top temple

A week after the controversial listing of the ancient Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, the dispute that has flared up between Thailand and Cambodia is still causing tension.

The 11th-Century Hindu temple lies along the border between the two countries, but in 1962 the International Court of Justice judged that it belonged to Cambodia.

However the land surrounding the temple is still disputed, and the only practical access is from Thailand.

The issue has stirred up nationalist emotions in an already sensitive political climate in both countries.

Early on Tuesday three Thai protesters crossed into the temple – which remains closed – and were detained for a short time by Cambodian troops.

The Cambodian authorities also say 40 Thai soldiers crossed into their territory briefly, although they are putting this down to confusion over the precise line of the border.

For both sides there is more at stake than a temple.

Cambodia is preoccupied with a hard-fought general election campaign, in which Prime Minister Hun Sen aims to extend his more than two decades in power.

Last week he encouraged thousands of Cambodians to join a rowdy celebration of the temple’s new international status in the capital, Phnom Penh.

In Thailand feelings are running even higher; the government elected last December was already floundering under a combined assault by street demonstrators, unfavourable court verdicts and the parliamentary opposition.

Its opponents have accused it of incompetence, and of being led by nominees of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a coup in September 2006.

Now the government is being attacked for selling out the country over Preah Vihear, because it initially supported Cambodia’s bid to list the temple.

One of Thailand’s top courts judged that decision to be unconstitutional, as it was in effect a treaty which needed parliamentary approval, and it has barred the government from offering any further co-operation with Cambodia.

As a result Foreign Minister Noppodol Pattama was forced to resign last week, one of three ministers to lose his job over the past two months.

Opposition from elite

The volatile state of Thai politics is the principal reason the row has blown up.

Thai society is still deeply polarised between those who support Mr Thaksin, and want him to stage a political comeback, and those who loathed his leadership style and mistrust the motives of the government, which is led by his party.

The fact that before being appointed foreign minister, Mr Noppodol had been Mr Thaksin’s chief lawyer made his position particularly vulnerable.

His critics accuse him of putting his former client’s business interests in Cambodia before the country’s interests over the temple, something he has strongly denied.

That suspicion harks back to the five-and-a-half years Thaksin Shinawatra was in office. As an immensely wealthy and successful businessman himself, he promoted his can-do ethos around the country, especially in poorer rural areas.

He believed in the global marketplace, and in exposing Thais to its risks and opportunities. He pushed hard to privatise state-owned industries and get free trade agreements with as many countries as he could.

Inevitably he provoked opposition from those who felt they would lose out, or from those who felt he cared more about making money than about Thailand’s traditions and interests.

The most vehement opposition to the Preah Vihear World Heritage bid comes from the same groups who objected to many of Mr Thaksin’s policies: the traditional, royalist and aristocratic elite and elements of the Bangkok middle class.

Historical rivalry

But there are also genuine historical grievances at play.

The international court decision awarding Preah Vihear to Cambodia in 1962 was not unanimous. It rested largely on Thailand’s failure to protest against the French-drawn border line in the decades before.

At the time it was mapped, a hundred years ago, Thailand had few skilled cartographers of its own.

The French colonial cartographers were supposed to draw the border along the forested edge of the Dangret Escarpment, but they veered in a few hundred metres to put the temple on the Cambodian side. It is not clear why the Thais did not object then.

But it is worth remembering that in 1941 Thailand fought its only war of the 20th Century with French colonial forces over where the border with Cambodia should lie. A huge monument in the centre of Bangkok still commemorates that conflict.

At different periods in the past Thai and Khmer empires have vied for dominance in the region; the town next to the famous Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat is Siem Reap, which means “Siam [Thailand] flattened”.

Khmer-style temples like Preah Vihear still dot much of Thailand’s north-east.

That historical rivalry still resonates today. Only five years ago the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh was burned down by an angry mob after a Thai actress was wrongly quoted as saying Angkor Wat should belong to Thailand.

As it awaited news of the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site, the Cambodian government took the precaution of reinforcing security around the re-built Thai embassy.



Khmer premier calls for immediate withdrawal of Thai troops from Preah Vihear temple

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for Thai troops to be withdrawal from the border dispute immediately.

Hun Sen said his country’s border dispute with Thailand is “worsening.



Thai troops are in Thai territory : Thai PM
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

It is Cambodian troops who invade in our soil

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej insisted on Friday that the Thai troops can station at Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda because it is in the Thai soil.

In his reply letter to his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, Samak stressed that presence of the Cambodian troops at the area instead violated the Thai territory.

Samak reminded Hun Sen, “the establishment of the Cambodian community, including construction of a temple and houses, and the presence of the Cambodian military personnel in the area constitute a continued violation of Thai sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Hun Sen said in his letter sent to Samak on Thursday that Thai troops deployed to the pagoda’s area should be immediately withdrawn as the area is in the Cambodian soil.

The Thai government has issued four written protests to the Cambodian side regarding this matter in 2004, 2005, 2007 and April 2008 respectively.

Meanwhile, the deployment by Cambodia of more than 1,000 troops, in addition to around 200 troops stationed there earlier, has caused the situation to deteriorate, Samak said in his letter.

Prime Minister Samak called on both sides to exercise restraint and hoped that the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission will accelerate its work to survey and demarcate the entire stretch of the Thai-Cambodian border so that similar problems would not arise in the future.

In addition, pending completion of the JBC’s work in this area, the Thai side was ready to jointly explore with Cambodia possible interim measures, he said.

To avoid military action, Prime Minister Samak who is also the Defense Minister assigned Supreme Commander General Boonsarng Niumpradit to lead Thai delegation to a special session of General Border Committee (GBC) in Sa Kaew Monday.

Later on Friday, the Foreign Ministry invited the eight other ASEAN Ambassadors to the ministry and informed them of the situation between Thailand and Cambodia, which are Asean members.

They were also given copies of the letter dated July 17, 2008 from Hun Sen to Samak and the latter’s note dated July 18,2008 to his Cambodian counterpart.

Other documents attached included the attached copies of the four Aide-Memoires which Thailand sent to protest Cambodia, and copies of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two countries on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary dated 4 June 2000.

The ministry has also circulated all of those documents to other foreign missions in Bangkok.

Meanwhile Thai Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman Tharit Charungvat explained that the four protests by Thailand to Cambodia were made on the basis of Article 5 of the 2000 MOU, under which both sides agree not to carry out any work resulting in changes of environment of the frontier zone, pending the survey and demarcation of the common land boundary.

However, to date, no action whatsoever has been undertaken by Cambodia to address Thailand’s concerns, protests and requests.



That’s our territory; Thai PM

In his reply to Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej insisted Friday that the areas where Thai troops are stationing are in Thai soil.

The area of Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda (known as Preah Vihear) as mentioned in the Cambodian Prime Minister’s letter is within the Thai territory, Samak said in his letter.

Hun Sen wrote a letter to Samak Thursday, calling for Thailand to withdraw some 400 troops from ‘disputed area’ following the military stand off along side with a protest by a group of Thai people over the listing of the Preah Vihear as World Heritage Site.



Gen Tea Banh to head Khmer side in talk with Thailand on military stand off

Cambodia’s Defence Minister Gen Tea Banh will head Khmer delegation to talk with the Thai side to resolve the military stand off at Preah Vihear Temple.

The talk of General Border Committee is scheduled to be at Sa Kaew province of Thailand on Monday 21 July.

It is still unclear who will represent Thailand. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is head of the committee but he could assign others to do the job on his behalf.



PM assigns supreme commander to attend border meeting with Cambodia

Prime Minister and Defence Minister Samak Sundaravej Friday assigned Supreme Commander Gen Boonsrang Niampradit to attend the General Border Committee meeting in Sa Kaew Monday.

Lt Gen Niphat Thonglek, director of the Directorate of Military Border Affairs, said Boonsrang, who is deputy chairman of the GBC, will attend the meeting on behalf of Samak.

He will be accompanied by the permanent secretary for Interior Ministry, the director-general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department.
The Nation



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