Saturday, 19 July 2008

Cambodia sends more troops to temple area

The Bangkok Post
Saturday July 19, 2008


Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ung Sean was summoned to the Foreign Ministry yesterday to hear the government's protest over Cambodia's claim of ownership of the disputed zone near the Preah Vihear temple.

Bangkok's diplomatic manoeuvre came as Phnom Penh sent more troops to the area. The Thai army is likely to counter the move and match forces with Cambodia.

The ministry handed the ambassador a letter from Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, which insisted Thai soldiers were deployed on Thai soil, according to ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat.

On Thursday, the Cambodian prime minister wrote to Mr Samak demanding the withdrawal of Thai troops from Cambodian territory.

Mr Samak's letter said the government was concerned about the increasing border troop build-up by Cambodia, which would lead to a deteriorating situation.

Mr Samak argued that the area the Cambodian leader claimed in his letter was part of Cambodia was actually within Thailand.

"The establishment of the Cambodian community, including construction of a temple, houses and the stationing of Cambodian military personnel in the area is a continued violation of Thailand's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the letter said.

Thailand had protested against the intrusion of Cambodians into the area four times - in 2004, 2005, 2007 and last year, it said.

The two neighbours claim sovereignty over a 4.6-square-kilometre area at the border. Thailand claims it is part of Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket province, while Cambodia claims it is in its province of Preah Vihear.

Eight ambassadors to Thailand from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) were briefed by the ministry. They were handed copies of the letters from Mr Hun Sen and Mr Samak.

Mr Samak repeated Thailand's determination to resolve the problem in the area immediately adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple through peaceful means.

In Si Sa Ket, a Thai intelligence source said about 2,000 Cambodian soldiers with heavy military equipment, including helicopters and personnel carriers, were stationed at Komui village close to the contested area yesterday.

They were elite soldiers sent in to counter the special forces which Thailand planned to send to the area.

A Cambodian convoy of four heavy military trucks with mounted machine guns and two smaller trucks was seen travelling from the capital, Phnom Penh, to the border yesterday, according to Reuters. The soldiers were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles.

"I am leading these men to reinforce our troops at Preah Vihear," Gen Yim Sanh said.

A Thai army source said Thailand planned to dispatch more soldiers to the disputed area to at least match the Cambodian forces.

Second Army commander Lt-Gen Sujit Sithiprapa vowed to keep Thai troops in the overlapping area until the General Border Committee (GBC) meets on Monday in Aranyaprathet district.

Lt-Gen Sujit denied reports that soldiers from the two countries nearly clashed on Thursday evening.

"I can confirm that Thai and Cambodian soldiers are staying together in the area without any conflicts or clashes," he said.

The GBC is chaired by the defence ministers of the two countries.

Supreme Commander Gen Boonsrang Niempradit will lead the Thai negotiators to meet their Cambodian counterparts led by Defence Minister Teah Banh.

Gen Boonsrang was assigned by Mr Samak, who is also defence minister, to attend the talks.

Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda, air force leader ACM Chalit Pukpasuk, navy commander Adm Sathiraphan Keyanont, national police chief Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwan and National Security Council (NSC) secretary-general Lt-Gen Surapol Puaenaiyaga met yesterday to assess the situation in Si Sa Ket ahead of the GBC meeting.

Gen Boonsrang indicated Thailand could propose Phnom Penh withdraw about 500 Cambodian villagers from the disputed area as a condition for a Thai military withdrawal.

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