Bangkok – Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Friday warned his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen that the decision to beef up troops around a contested Hindu temple on their joint border has caused the already tense standoff to ‘deteriorate.’
Both Thailand and Cambodia have this week been reinforcing troops in the vicinity of Preah Vihear temple, also called Phra Viharn in Thai, which sits on a cliff that defines the Thai-Cambodian border between Si Sa Khet and Phrea Vihear provinces in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively.
The temple was the cause of a border spat five decades ago that ended up at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1962. Cambodia won, but the row has been reignited by the World Heritage Committee’s decision to list the temple as a UNESCO site earlier this month despite Thai objections.
Three Thais were briefly detained on Tuesday for crossing into a portion of the temple compound that is still subject to a border demarcation dispute. The three, part of an ultra nationalist Buddhist group, were released within hours but prompted Thailand to send in paramilitary troops to the contested area, where they have remained.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who faces an election on July 27, has reportedly dispatched about 1,000 troops to the Cambodian side of the border.
In a letter to Hun Sen from the Thai premier passed to the Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand, Ung Sean, Friday, Samak reiterated Thailand’s resolve to seek a ‘just and peaceful solution to the situation,’ said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat.
‘Meanwhile, the deployment by Cambodia of more than 1,000 troops, in addition to around 200 troops stationed there earlier, has caused the situation to deteriorate,’ Samak noted in his letter.
Thailand and Cambodia are scheduled to hold a special session of the Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee in Sa Kaeo Province on Monday to discuss the border dispute and ‘prevent the escalation of the situation.’
Thailand claims that a 4.6-square-kilometre area around the temple is still disputed and since the dispute is undecided their troops are not technically in Cambodian territory.
Cambodia’s efforts to list the temple compound, although excluding the disputed area, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site became politically charged last month when Samak’s government first backed the proposal, then withdrew its support after intense public criticism.
Former Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Patamma was forced to resign over the issue.
The Thai Foreign Ministry explained Thailand’s stance on the border dispute to diplomats from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which both Thailand and Cambodia are members, in Bangkok on Friday.
Thailand successfully blocked Cambodia’s efforts to list Preah Vihear at UNESCO last year and has issued two previous complaints concerning the still disputed temple compound area on previous occasions, said Tharit.