By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
Published on February 1, 2011
Thailand yesterday officially demanded that Cambodia remove Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda and the Cambodian flag flying over the structure from the disputed border area around Preah Vihear Temple, while reaffirming its vow to resolve boundary issues through "peaceful means".
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement maintaining its claim that the Buddhist pagoda erected by Cambodia in 1998 "is situated on Thai territory".
The statement was issued days after Phnom Penh rejected Bangkok's request to take down the Cambodian flag from the pagoda.
Phnom Penh insisted last Friday that it had the legitimate right to fly its flag over the pagoda, which it claimed was on its territory.
The area of 4.6 square kilometres adjacent to Preah Vihear has not yet been demarcated because of the overlapping ownership claims.
The area was delimited in line with the Franco- Siamese treaties of 1904 and 1907. Cambodia claims that the Franco- Siamese joint commission produced a series of maps from 1905-08 to indicate that the area in question is Cambodian territory.
Thailand, in the statement yesterday, said it did not accept the France-made 1:200,000-scale map to determine the boundary line.
Cambodia argues that the International Court of Justice, when it ruled on the Preah Vihear case in 1962, used the map as a basic document to make the judgement, which says "the temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under sovereignty of Cambodia".
Phnom Penh said the memorandum of understanding on land-boundary demarcation signed by Thailand and Cambodia in 2000 also recognised the French map as the legal basis for boundary surveys and demarcation.
The border conflict has become a thorn in the side of the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration after the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy raised awareness of the issue among the public. The PAD accuses the government of ceding Thai territory to Cambodia ever since the MoU signed in 2000, during the Democrat Party-led administration under Chuan Leekpai, recognised the French map.
They called on the government to scrap the pact and use force to evict the Cambodian community from the area, along with the pagoda. Hundreds of PAD supporters and one of its splinter groups, the Thai Patriots Network, are camping out in protest around Government House.
Thai Patriots Network member Samdin Lertbutr yesterday sued Abhisit, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for alleged criminal misconduct in causing the loss of territory.
The Thai Patriots Network has insisted that it has proof that the property belongs to Thailand.
Abhisit urged the protesters to share their information on the boundary with the government, rather than protesting and trying to force him to follow their way.
"We have the same goal to protect the national interest. I wonder why we don't share the information. We have a different stance because we have different information," he said.
The yellow-shirt demonstration as well as news of the deployment of heavy military hardware to border areas has exacerbated tensions in the relations of the two countries.
Cambodia boosted troops in the border area near Preah Vihear after a report that the Thai military would hold an exercise.
"They [Thai troops] are doing manoeuvres and we are also doing them - that is why we need to send tanks and other weapons to the border," Cambodian Military Division 3 Commander Srey Doek was quoted as saying by the Phnom Penh Post. "Our armed forces are on alert."
Abhisit said he did not want to wage any war with Cambodia.
"The two countries retain their same old stance on the issue to protect their respective rights but both sides insist on settling the problem by peaceful means through negotiation," he said.
The Foreign Ministry in its statement said Thailand was committed to resolving all boundary issues with Cambodia in accordance with international law through peaceful means under the framework of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC).
The determination of the boundary line in the area of Preah Vihear Temple is still subject to ongoing talks under the framework of the JBC, it said.
Abhisit's government also needs to provide assistance to release nationalist Veera Somkwamkid and his aide Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who go on trial today in Phnom Penh. They have been detained on the charge of espionage.
The two, together with five other activists who have already been convicted and released, were arrested on December 29 while inspecting the disputed border area near Sa Kaew's Ban Nong Chan. Their colleagues from the Thai Patriots Network, who are to be in Phnom Penh today, want to ask the court to delay the decision, as they will submit more evidence to prove that the two Thais were arrested on Thai soil.
The neighbourhood in Sa Kaew is also in a grey area but Thai authorities said that in this case the yellow shirts had strayed too far beyond the frontier line claimed by Thailand.