The number of Thai troops in territory Cambodia considers sovereign increased Thursday, and local media reported fearful Cambodian residents had begun evacuating the area of a border dispute over an 11th-century Hindu temple.
Preah Vihear, perched on a 525-metre high cliff on the Dongrak mountain range that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, turned into a flashpoint Tuesday when three Thai nationals entered the temple compound to protest UNESCO’s July 9 listing as a World Heritage Site.
“The troop numbers have increased, although I have no exact figure. They are at a pagoda about 200 metres from Preah Vihear temple,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.
Late Wednesday he estimated that around 200 Thai troops were in Cambodian territory, while Cambodia had sent 380. Thailand maintains the area is a disputed no man’s land and they are not in Cambodia.
Local newspapers Thursday printed front page pictures of Thai troops standing at Cambodian checkpoints, with Cambodian Khmer-language signs clearly visible.
Kanharith confirmed that Cambodia would hold talks with Thailand over the issue Monday and said Prime Minister Hun Sen had spoken with his Thai counterpart Samak Sundaravej by telephone Wednesday night. He said relation remain cordial and urged calm.
Kanharith said Thailand called for the urgent meeting to defuse the row over joint claims to the temple ruins compound that has drawn hundreds of troops to both sides of the border.
The emergency meeting of the General Border Committee will be held Monday in Thailand’s border province of Sa Kaeo.
It was not clear whether the meeting of the committee, set up years ago to cope with the two countries’ border problems, would be attended by Thai Prime Minister Samak in his capacity as defence minister.
Meanwhile both Koh Santepheap and the Cambodia Daily newspapers reported Cambodian residents had begun evacuating the area.
“I don’t feel safe because the Thai side is building up its soldiers as well as the Cambodian side,” the Cambodia Daily quoted villager Kuy Sopheat, 49, as saying as he packed for his family.
Around 900 Cambodian families live around the temple.
Tensions began rising Tuesday, when Cambodia detained and then released three Thais it said had illegally crossed the border.