Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Flag flap pits Abhisit against military

via CAAI

ANALYSIS: The PM's new strong stance worries some among the top brass

Published: 1/02/2011
The border dispute with Cambodia is driving a wedge between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and military leaders.

Mr Abhisit is demanding that Cambodia remove all national flags from Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara.

The prime minister considers the 4.6-square-kilometre area near Preah Vihear temple, on which Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara stands, to be part of Thailand.

Military leaders believe Cambodia's earlier agreement to remove two stone tablets at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara which carried claims of ownership of the area should be taken into consideration by Mr Abhisit.

The first tablet labelled Thai troops who had been stationed in the zone as "invaders", while the second was engraved with the statement: "Here! is Cambodia".

The Cambodian government agreed to remove both.

Mr Abhisit's latest demands are akin to "unrelenting" pressure on the Cambodian government, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said yesterday.

He said the flags issue was "trivial".

"The temple put up the Cambodian national flags [not the government]," Gen Prawit said.

"Cambodia has already agreed to destroy the marble tablets at Wat Kaew [Sikha Khiri Sawara]. What else does [Mr Abhisit] want from them?"

The defence minister asked the media to avoid presenting reports that could lead to conflict between the two countries.

He also urged political groups not to exploit international affairs for their own gain.

An army source said Thai military leaders were unhappy with Mr Abhisit for making such demands without asking for information from the armed forces.

"[Mr Abhisit] seems to want to ease political pressure [at home] at the same time as building up his image to look stronger than his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen," the source said.

"However, those who are placed in difficult situations are us [soldiers]."

The source, who is stationed near the disputed area, said local army officers had not yet told the Cambodian soldiers to remove the national flags from the temple, although they have inquired about who erected them.

Lt Gen Thawatchai Samutsakhon, the commander of the 2nd Army in charge of the eastern provinces bordering Cambodia and one of army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha's close friends, said the prime minister might have his own reasons for his displeasure over the Cambodian flags, but insisting that they be removed would meet opposition.

"Cambodia is not a 'child' that we can order to do whatever we want," Lt Gen Thawatchai said.

"Moreover, we just demanded that they [Cambodia soldiers] destroy the tablets, which they agreed to do."

Tensions along the eastern border have risen since the stone tablets at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara were erected.

The Thai army has mobilised troops and heavy war weapons along the border in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket province, although it claims this was part of regular military training. The Cambodian military responded by mobilising troops, armoured vehicles and rocket launchers to reinforce its outposts.

The tension led to a visit to the disputed area last Friday by Hun Sen's 33-year-old son, Brig Gen Hun Manet, in a bid to map out battle strategies for the Cambodian military.

Gen Prawit is playing down the reinforcement of troops by the two countries.

"We [Thai soldiers] are ready to fight to protect our land, but don't worry: The relationship between the Thai and Cambodian military is still on good terms," he said.

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