REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)
by Suy Se
Sat Jul 19, 2008
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia(AFP) – has asked the United Nations to intervene in its border dispute with , a Thai official said on Saturday, the fifth day of a tense stand-off between the neighbours.
More than 600 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 an ancient temple at the centre of the territorial dispute.
“The Thai ambassador to the UN has reported to the Thai government that Cambodia has filed a complaint with the UN over the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia,” Thai government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat told AFP.
He said Cambodia wanted the UN to intervene and the Thai government would study the complaint before sending a letter to UN officials.
Military commanders from both sides said they were seeking to calm the soldiers to ensure that violence does not erupt ahead of peace talks planned for Monday.
The confrontation began when three Thai protesters illegally broke across on Tuesday vowing to reclaim the Preah Vihear temple, which they say rightly belongs to them.
US, Chinese, French and Vietnamese embassy staff flew to the disputed territory on Saturday, adding to diplomatic pressure to end the confrontation.
They toured the area and took photographs but did not speak to either side and declined to talk to reporters.
“They came here because they don’t want to see a confrontation between the troops of both countries. It is useless for both countries if any armed conflict happens,” Sao Sokha, commander of Cambodia’s military police said of the officials.
Cambodian and Thai top brass briefly met in the small Buddhist pagoda at the centre of the stand-off Saturday morning to discuss disarming troops stationed there.
“The order from the top is to do whatever it takes to avoid a gunfight. I was talking with him (Thai army Colonel Chay Huay Soongnern) to tell him that the armed forces on the frontlines should stash their weapons away,” said Srey Dik, Cambodian army commander overseeing operations.
The standoff nearly erupted into violence late Thursday, when witnesses said troops twice pointed their guns at each other.
The atmosphere was less tense Saturday evening, as some Cambodian and Thai troops put down their weapons and chatted.
Despite that, dozens more black-clad Thai troops were observed crossing into the border area during the day, carrying food along with their rifles.
Cambodian military officials said more than 100 additional Thai troops arrived Saturday, but refused to say how many Cambodian forces had been added to the standoff.
A heavy machine gun could be seen just beyond the border gate on the Thai side earlier Saturday, while a heavy gun faced Thai troops from the Cambodian side.
Cambodian troops, who have been banned from drinking wine to avoid any shooting, are positioned around the area and also stationed with Thais inside the pagoda, which sits on the slope of a mountain leading to the ruins of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.
The Cambodian commander reiterated his country’s claim to own the border territory, including the ancient temple site, and said other countries supported it.
“They recognise the facts. The truth is that Cambodia is the owner of the land here according to the 1904 French-Siam map,” he said.
The mood among Cambodians worsened Friday evening when they got word of a letter from Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to his Cambodian counterpartsaying the addition of Cambodian troops had caused the situation to “deteriorate”.
The World Court in 1962 determined the Preah Vihear ruins belong to Cambodia, even though the most accessible entrance lies in Thailand.
The issue has taken on national importance in both countries.
Cambodia is preparing for general elections on July 27, while Thailand has recently been rattled by anti-government protests, driven in part over the handling of the land dispute.