Bangkok – Thailand and Cambodia will hold an urgent meeting next week to defuse a row over joint claims on an ancient Hindu temple compound that has drawn hundreds of troops to both sides of the border, news reports said Thursday.
An emergency meeting of the General Border Committee will be held Monday in Thailand’s border province of Sa Kaeo, to speed up talks on the disputed territory around Preah Vihear temple on the border which earlier this month was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said the Bangkok Post citing foreign ministry sources.
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 Sundaravej in his capacity as defence minister.
Preah Vihear, perched on a 525-metre high cliff on the Dongrak mountain range that defines the Thai-Cambodian border, turned into a flash point Tuesday when three Thai national crossed into the temple compound to protest UNESCO’s listing of the site on July 9.
The threesome were detained by Cambodian authorities but later released.
Their detentions prompted some 150 Thai paramilitary troops to cross in to the disputed area and some 800 troops to be dispatched to the area in a show of force. Thailand insists that as the territory around the temple is still disputed, they have not violated their neighbour’s sovereignty.
“Ownership of the overlapping area is still open,” Air Chief Marshall Chalit Phukpasuk told the Bangkok Post. “As the boundary has not yet been established does Cambodia have the right to arrest us if we enter the area.”
On Wednesday, Cambodia claimed 200 Thai troops were inside Cambodian territory and announced that 380 Cambodian troops were deployed to meet them, but played down the confrontation.
“They are living altogether, and there is no conflict between them,” Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told a press conference.
According to the Cambodian government, Thai troops clad in black – a colour that evokes memories of the Khmer Rouge to many Cambodians and is regarded as particularly menacing – began arriving Tuesday at the temple site, about 300 kilometres north of Phnom Penh.
Ownership of the 11-century temple has been a bone of contention between the two countries for decades.
The temple was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court in The Hague, but the surrounding border area is still disputed, and many Thais were angered by the decision. Thai protesters have been camped out on the border for weeks.
The Cambodian government has urged calm with national elections, which are held every five years, two weeks away, and Cambodians seem to have obliged.
In 2003, angry Cambodians torched the Thai embassy and some businesses over a false rumour that a Thai actress had said the country’s other World Heritage Site, the Angkor Wat temple, was Thai.
Kanharith said Thailand had discussed the issue by telephone with Defence Minister Tea Banh, who has strong Thai connections and speaks fluent Thai. Prime Minister Hun Sen and officials of his interior and foreign ministries also met to discuss the issue Wednesday, he said. (dpa)