Thursday, 17 September 2009

Cambodia, Thai riot police sent to disputed border

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia and Thailand have dispatched riot police to backup soldiers at a disputed border area ahead of a weekend rally by Thai protesters that risks reviving a long-standing feud between the neighbors, officials said Thursday.

A group of Thai protesters plans to gather Saturday near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which is just across the border in Cambodia. The temple is a source of tensions that recently led to armed clashes between the two countries.

The Thai protesters blame the current and past governments for failing to protect Thai land and national sovereignty, reviving an issue that has drummed up nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border.

Cambodian soldiers have been ordered not to allow any spillover of the rally across the border, said Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat.

"We have ordered our forces not to allow any Thai protesters to enter even one centimeter onto our side. Once they enter Cambodian territory, our forces will quickly crack down," he said.

About 50 Cambodian riot police were sent to the border Wednesday, along with a special canine unit used for crowd control, to assist soldiers, said a national police spokesman, Gen. Kieth Chantharith.

At least 200 Thai police officers will be deployed on the Thai side to keep peace, Lt. Gen. Viboonsak Neepan, the Thai commander in the area, told reporters.

"An area has been designated for protesters to gather safely," he said. "We would like to ask that everyone considers the relations between the countries and safety of their people."

Tensions over temple ownership heated up in July 2008 when UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have Preah Vihear named a World Heritage Site. Thailand initially supported the bid but then reneged after the move sparked outrage and protests.

Both sides rushed troops to the border, which resulted in several small gunbattles.

The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Cambodia and Thailand share a 500-mile (800-kilometer) land border, part of which has never been clearly demarcated because each country relies on different maps.

On Wednesday, Cambodia alleged that last week a Cambodian youth was allegedly shot, then burned alive by Thai paramilitary troops in a disputed border area.

Thailand said that Cambodian villagers had crossed into Thai territory and were simply sent back.

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