PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia and Thailand will begin talks Monday aimed at resolving a lingering dispute over territory near an World Heritage Site temple, where more than 4,000 troops from the two sides have been deployed.
Cambodia’s mission at the United Nations has submitted a letter to the chairman of the Security Council and the chairman of the General Assembly to “draw their attention to the current situation on the Cambodian-Thai border,” Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Sunday.
“Cambodia is not asking for U.N. intervention. We still stick to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s instructions to try to solve the problem peacefully between the two sides,” the minister said.
The conflict over territory surrounding the ancient Hindu temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai activists say the new status undermines Thailand’s claim to the compound of a nearby Buddhist pagoda.
Based on estimates by commanders and AP reporters on both sides of the border, more than 4,000 troops have been deployed around the temple and in the immediate border region since last Tuesday.
In his letter Friday to the Security Council, Cambodian U.N. Ambassador Sea Kosal said the action by Thai troops was aimed at creating “a de facto overlapping area that legally does not exist on Cambodian soil.” A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Sunday.
The atmosphere appeared relaxed, despite the close proximity of the two forces at the site.
Opposing commanders and their troops have tried to defuse tensions, sometimes even sharing meals, snapping photographs and sleeping within easy sight of each other.
“Some of these soldiers (the Cambodians and the Thais) have known one another a long time and they have good relationships. The soldiers on both sides understand each other,” Thai field commander Col. Chayan Huaysoongnern told reporters.
A Cambodian general, however, said he had little hope that the talks Monday between his government and Thailand would resolve the matter.
Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo said Thai troops have deployed artillery about half a mile northeast of Preah Vihear temple.
“Regarding the talks tomorrow, we have little hope about the outcome,” Chea Keo said, citing Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s insistence that the area around the Buddhist temple belongs to Thailand.
While urging both sides to exercise restraint, Samak wrote in a letter to Hun Sen that a settlement of Cambodians in the area constituted “a continued violation of Thailand’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Associated Press writers Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok, Thailand, Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Vijay Joshi in Singapore contributed to this report.