Saturday, 27 June 2009

Border tense ahead of Suthep visit

By The Nation
Published on June 27, 2009

The situation remains tense along the border near Preah Vihear after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's refusal to discuss the Hindu temple during Thai Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban's visit today.

Thai Second Army Region commander Lt-General Wiboonsak Neeparn said the situation along the border was very tense, with the two sides faced off against each other.

"Policy-makers in the two countries should quickly find a solution to the problem," he said.

If the situation escalates further, that could mean more violence, the commander said.

Wiboonsak said Thai troops in the area would not initiate a clash but would be prepared to retaliate if Cambodia opened fire first.

However, Thai Army chief General Anupong Paochinda said the situation was unlikely to result in a skirmish as long as commanders on both sides maintained contact with each other.

Tensions have been mounting along the border near the Hindu temple since last week, when the Thai government decided to maintain its objection to Preah Vihear's World Heritage inscription.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered Natural Resource and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti to submit a complaint to the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Spain this week and asked Deputy PM Suthep to clear the stance with Cambodia.

Abhisit yesterday said in Beijing, where he was on an official visit, that Thailand's objection to the Preah Vihear inscription had nothing to do with Cambodia, but rather with the World Heritage Committee.

Pongpol Adireksarn, a former chairman of Thailand's own World Heritage Committee, said Thai complaints were useless, because they had come too late and would not be placed on the agenda.

The latest tensions stem from the government tying the inscription to the boundary issue, even though the two matters have no connection and linking them upsets Cambodia, he said.

Suthep yesterday insisted he would visit Cambodia today as planned to mend the rift, despite Hun Sen saying Preah Vihear would be off the table.

He said Hun Sen had to make such a statement to protect Cambodia's interests and that it was an internal affair.

"No problem. I won't intervene in Cambodia's internal affairs, but rather will go to make friends and reduce border tensions," Suthep told reporters.

The two neighbours can cooperate constructively for mutual benefit, he said.

"I won't discuss any issue that could lead to further disputes," Suthep added.

Hun Sen on Thursday said he would not discuss a Thai idea for joint nomination of the Hindu temple, but rather only a withdrawal of Thai troops from Cambodian territory.

Suthep said the Army could handle the situation on the ground at the border.

The ongoing dispute at the border near Preah Vihear has sparked two border skirmishes - one last October and the other in April - leaving seven soldiers on both sides dead.

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