(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AFP) — Cambodia and Thailand further increased their forces in the fifth day of a tense standoff on disputed land near an ancient Hindu temple on the border, officials said on Saturday.
More than 500 Thai troops and well over 1,000 Cambodian soldiers are stationed around a small Buddhist pagoda on the slope of a mountain leading to the ruins of 11th century Preah Vihear temple.
“Now there are nearly 400 Thai troops stationed in the pagoda. I’m not sure how many are stationed in the jungle,” said Brigadier Chea Keo, commander of Cambodian forces in the area.
Cambodian officials declined to give the number of their forces at the border, however hundreds of anti-riot police began reinforcing more than 1,000 troops in the area Friday while more than 100 Thai troops joined 400 soldiers already at the scene.
Officials said the situation was “stable” Saturday but the mood among Cambodians became tense Friday evening when they got word of a letter from Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, saying the addition of Cambodian troops had caused the situation to “deteriorate”.
In the letter calling for a peaceful solution to the standoff, Samak said Cambodia had violated a pre-existing agreement not to build in disputed territory, according to a statement by the Thai foreign ministry.
“The establishment of the Cambodian community, including construction of a temple and houses, and the stationing of the Cambodian military personnel in the area constitute a continued violation of Thailand’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said the Thai foreign ministry.
Asked about the Thai premier’s claims, Brigadier Chea Keo answered: “On the map, it is our territory.”
The standoff nearly erupted into violence late Thursday, when witnesses said troops twice pointed their guns at each other during 10 tense minutes at the pagoda when 50 Cambodian troops entered the pagoda compound to protect food supplies for dozens of monks.
Officials from both countries plan to meet Monday to resolve the standoff. But Premier Hun Sen and told his Thai counterpart in a letter Thursday that the dispute was worsening and harming their relations.