Thailand and Cambodia will hold an urgent meeting of the General Border Committee (GBC) on Monday to defuse the growing tension over the listing of the old Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.
The decision comes as both countries are sending troop reinforcements to the sensitive border area.
Lt-Gen Sujit Sithiprapa, commander of the Second Army in charge of the northeastern region, has closed Khao Phra Viharn national park in Kantharalak district of Si Sa Ket and sealed access to the border in the area, banning visitors from seeing the temple ruins from the Thai side.
The road is now closed from the forestry district office, which is 8km from the borderline at Pha Mor E-Daeng.
The closure means members of the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy will be unable to go to the border today as planned.
Si Sa Ket governor Sanee Jittakasem suggested they stage a protest in the district town instead.
About 900 Cambodians living on the mountain where the temple is located have fled their homes for a safer spot lower down, according to Cambodian border unit commander Seng Vuthy.
Three Thai protesters remained in the disputed area to meditate at Wat Phra Viharn, about 200m from the stone staircases leading to the temple. They were released on Tuesday after being detained, but refused to leave the 4.6 square kilometre disputed area.
The GBC, set up by the two countries to solve border issues, will meet for talks in Sa Kaeo province, the Foreign Ministry said.
The committee is co-chaired by the defence ministers of both countries. But it was unclear whether Defence Minister Samak Sundaravej and his Cambodian counterpart Gen Teah Banh will attend the talks or send representatives. The meeting was set for next month. The decision to bring it forward underlines the worry felt by both governments over the growing tension.
Thailand started reinforcing its troops yesterday after army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda ordered the First Special Warfare Unit to stand by at their base in Lop Buri province, and be ready for an airlift to the border in case of an emergency, an army source said.
Troops from the Artillery Regiment and the Third Infantry Division were already on their way to stations close to the border. The reinforcements from the three units would number about 800. Some 150 paramilitary rangers are already in the disputed area.
Air force chief ACM Chalit Phukpasuk assigned F-16 jets to patrol the border in Si Sa Ket yesterday and questioned the detention of three protesters by Cambodian soldiers in the overlapping zone.
”Ownership of the overlapping area is still open. As the boundary has not yet been established, does Cambodia have any right to arrest us if we enter the area?” he said.
Pol Capt Soy Burin of the Cambodian border patrol unit said more Cambodian troops had been sent to guard the ruins.
Phnom Penh has 380 soldiers stationed at the temple, according to Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.
Despite the presence of more troops at the border, Gen Anupong instructed soldiers to avoid a clash with Cambodian soldiers.
Lt-Gen Sujit insisted on the presence of Thai troops in the disputed area unless Cambodia moves its soldiers out.
”If Cambodia does not withdraw its soldiers, we won’t either, because it is the overlapping area,” he said.
Mr Khieu Kanharith backed off his assertion on Tuesday that Thai troops had been captured in Cambodia, saying it was a misunderstanding.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told the public to remain calm and not to ”inflame [the situation] or add fuel to the fire.”