Friday, 26 June 2009

Cambodian PM warns Thailand in border temple row

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Thailand Thursday it must respect his country's sovereignty ahead of talks over the two countries' disputed border near an ancient temple.

Thai deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban is scheduled to meet with Hun Sen Saturday at his home near Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to discuss the troop standoff in the disputed border zone.

The Cambodian leader said in a speech that he would take a hard stance on the dispute, which has killed seven soldiers near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple since tensions flared last year.

"We will not accept an explanation from Suthep over the Preah Vihear issue. I will welcome only an explanation about withdrawal of Thai soldiers out of sovereign Cambodian territory," Hun Sen said.

"I have a full obligation to defend independent and sovereign territory," he added.

Relations between the neighbours worsened last week when Bangkok announced it would ask world heritage body UNESCO to reconsider its decision to list Preah Vihear in Cambodia, since the surrounding land is still in dispute.

This week, however, UNESCO refused to hear Thailand's complaint as its world heritage committee met in Seville, Spain, according to Cambodian government officials.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over the land around the Preah Vihear temple for decades, but tensions spilled over into violence last July when the temple was granted UN World Heritage status.

Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, the most accessible entrance to the ancient Khmer temple with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings is in northeastern Thailand.

Soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand continue to patrol the area, with the last gunbattle in the temple area in April leaving three people dead.

The border between the two countries has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

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