Thursday, 3 July 2008

Cambodia sends riot police to guard Thai embassy: officials

Cambodia police are protecting the Thai Phnom Penh embassy over fears that the Preah Vihear temple dispute may escalate

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia has deployed riot police to protect the Thai embassy for fear that a border dispute over an ancient Hindu temple could spark violent protests, officials said on Thursday.

The move came after Thailand suspended its endorsement of Cambodia's bid for the UN cultural agency UNESCO to grant the long-disputed Preah Vihear temple World Heritage status.

"We have deployed security forces to protect Thai embassy because we fear that extremists could do something bad again to the embassy, like in 2003," Phnom Penh's police chief Touch Naruth told AFP, declining to give more details.

A spat in 2003 over Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple -- the most significant symbol of the country's ancient Khmer empire -- sparked a night of riots in which Thailand's embassy and several Thai-owned businesses were burned and looted.

General Khieu Sopheak, the interior ministry spokesman, told AFP that the riot police were put on guard after a report that thousands of Cambodians would protest at the Thai embassy.

The forces will remain at the embassy for 24 hours to protect "the mutual interests" of both countries, he said.

Security forces were also mobilised to protect Thai-owned businesses in the capital Phnom Penh, he said.

"We prevent all protests. We will prevent any bad thing from happening (against Thailand) like in 2003," Khieu Sopheak said, adding that everything is "under control."

Witnesses said anti-riot police were stationed outside the embassy with several fire trucks on standby.

In 1962, the dispute over the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple went before the World Court, which ruled that the temple belongs to Cambodia, although the main entrance lies at the foot of a mountain in Thailand.

The long-standing row appeared resolved last month, after Thailand endorsed Cambodia's plan to seek World Heritage status at a UNESCO meeting in Canada this week.

But the deal sparked a political controversy in Thailand, and last week Cambodia closed the mountaintop temple after more than 100 Thais marched to the compound to protest the deal.
A Thai court then forced the government to suspend its endorsement of the plan.

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