Cambodia demolishes claim to border area
Growing border tensions have eased again now that Cambodia has demolished a stone tablet that claimed it owned a disputed area.
Lt GenTawatchai Samutsakhon(right), the 2nd Army commander, joins in the demolition of the tablet reading ‘‘Here! is Cambodia’’. The sign wassmashed into pieces after he negotiated with his Cambodian counterpart to destroy it yesterday.
"It has now ended," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told the press yesterday after he received a report from the army that the tablet had been destroyed.
The prime minister said Thailand had protested against the stone sign being erected in the disputed area and Cambodia had shown it was prepared to cooperate, which was a positive step.
Cambodia's decision to demolish the controversial tablet came after a tense Tuesday night at the border.
Both countries reinforced troops near the Preah Vihear temple and put them on full alert after Cambodia replaced the original tablet which accused Thai soldiers of trespassing with a new one. The new tablet carried an even stronger message, declaring that the disputed area in which it had been erected belonged to Cambodia.
The 2nd Army, responsible for the border area, moved in troops and heavy war weapons and conducted military training near the area.
The tablet was placed in front of Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple which is near the Preah Vihear temple. The stone was replaced on the weekend on the orders of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen but the new message was more aggressive, reading "Here! is Cambodia".
After receiving an order to "do anything" to get Cambodia to remove the new tablet, at around 11am yesterday, Lt Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, the 2nd Army commander, led about 20 armed soldiers to Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple to demand the Cambodian troops remove the new tablet.
Four companies of soldiers were deployed at the foot of the hill and were ordered to be ready to act.
The 2nd Army chief asked Cambodian commanders why they had erected the tablet as both sides had promised not to build anything to claim territory in the disputed area. The Cambodian authorities replied that their foreign ministry had told them to put the tablet there.
Lt Gen Tawatchai asked them to destroy it to ease the discomfort of the Thai soldiers and people.
"If you don't remove such a negative tablet, I will erect a "Here! is Thailand" tablet nearby as well," Lt Gen Tawatchai told his Cambodian counterparts.
After an hour of negotiations, the Cambodians agreed to destroy the tablet.
"I don't know why they agreed. At about 12.15pm, Cambodia had its soldiers destroy the new tablet. I watched them do it. I smashed it too. I wanted to participate," Lt Gen Tawatchai said.
"I spoke to them nicely and stuck to the reason of what could happen if the tablet remained.
"We are neighbours and should coexist peacefully. No one would like a war and then they agreed," said the 2nd Army chief who previously received a medal for bravery after taking part in a battle at the Chon Bok border pass in Ubon Ratchathani following a territorial dispute involving Thailand, Cambodia and Laos in 1987.
"Before ascending to the temple, I told them beforehand that I would be there and Gen Chea Dara, their deputy supreme commander, and Lt Gen Sai Deuk, the commander of their 4th regional army, were waiting for me," Lt Gen Tawatchai said.
He said the 2nd Army is now deploying five paramilitary rangers to stay with Cambodian soldiers at their 795 border patrol base behind Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple to coordinate with them.
Lt Gen Tawatchai did not send any Thai troops to stay overnight at Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara but Thai soldiers can still reach the temple which is in the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area.
Mr Abhisit yesterday said the traning of Thai soldiers near the border was a routine military mission.
As for Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon who have been accused of illegal entry into Cambodia and espionage, Mr Abhisit pledged that his government would continue to help them They are awaiting a court ruling on their case scheduled for Feb1.