The Mekong Times & AP
As tensions mount at the disputed Preah Vihear border point, a government committee prepares to hold talks with Thailand. The committee, comprised of senior government figures, was formed following the request of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for a closed-door meeting, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said yesterday. The news came as Cambodian officials said Thai troops again crossed into Cambodian territory, the second day of alleged territorial violations amid mounting anger over the disputed area.
Khieu Kanharith urged displaced villagers to return to their homes, saying that the prime minister has “ordered us not to use weapons. We will use law and diplomacy. The government has also ordered all provinces bordering Thailand to maintain a good relationship with Thailand. People should stay calm and media networks should avoid making the situation tense because there is no tension at the border. This will ensure that the government can control the situation.”
Cambodia’s position for the proposed meeting would be to seek the withdrawal of Thai troops from its territory, Khieu Kanharith said. “All [Thai troops] will have to go back to where they were. After that, we will talk about border problems.”
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat could not be reached for comment.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has appealed to the media and the public to remain calm and “not to inflame [the situation] or add fuel to the fire,” Khieu Kanharith said.
“We will definitely not use any force unless attacked,” he stressed.
Cambodian border guard Unit Commander Seng Vuthy said earlier yesterday that “both the Cambodian and Thai forces have their hands on their guns at all times.”
He confirmed that some of the 900 residents on the mountain where the temple is located have fled their homes to a safer location at the foot of the mountain.
The guard said negotiations between military commanders of the opposing sides were continuing but he did not elaborate.
Thai officials have denied any incursion, saying troops are deploying on what was clearly Thai territory to protect their country’s sovereignty.
However, a senior Thai military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said about 200 Thai troops were inside what he called “disputed border territory,” AP reported.
Preah Vihear National Authority Director Hang Soth, said the Thais continued to cross the border yesterday.
“Their troops have increased in number. They have not pulled back yet,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith agreed that the number of Thai troops swelled to about 200 yesterday. He said Cambodia has about 380 troops in the area but insisted that “the situation is stable.”
Both sides are deployed around the Phnom Prasat pagoda close to the ancient Preah Vihear temple. There has no been no armed confrontation, though one Thai soldier has reportedly lost a leg after setting off one of the many Khmer Rouge-ere land mines that litter the area.
Khieu Kanharith claimed that the entire area at the foot of the temple is Cambodian territory where Cambodian monks and soldiers currently reside.
The latest confrontation came after UNESCO declared Preah Vihear – which is at the center of a long-standing border quarrel between the two neighbors – a World Heritage Site last week.
Both countries claim 4.6 sq km of land around the temple, and Thai anti-government activists have recently revived nationalist sentiment over the issue. The activists and some Thai government officials fear the temple’s new status will jeopardize their country’s claims to land adjacent to the site.
Major General Kanok Netakawesana, a Thai army field commander in the region, said by telephone Tuesday that his troops were on Thai soil close to the disputed area. He declined to give the number of soldiers deployed.
“We are not violating the territory of Cambodia. We have every right to deploy troops here to protect our sovereignty,” Kanok said.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat, also speaking on Tuesday denied any incursion and said the relationship between the two countries remained