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14 Aug 2008

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Cambodia rejects Thai claim over border temples

Cambodia’s foreign ministry rejects claims made by Thailand on the ownership of Ta Moan Thom and Ta Moan Touch temples, two ruins on the border with the neighbouring country that have become the scene of another military standoff following the territorial dispute over land at Preah Vihear, reported The Phnom Penh Post on Wednesday.

In a statement, the ministry on Tuesday outlined Cambodia’s legal claim to the temples in Oddar Meanchey province, citing border demarcation documents from 1908 defining the frontier between Cambodia and Thailand.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs...therefore rejects any claim to the contrary to the legal rights of Cambodia,” the ministry was quoted by the newspaper as saying in the statement.

Thai soldiers have occupied Ta Moan Touch on and off since 2001, but only recently deployed to Ta Moan Thom.

After a meeting last week between Thai and Cambodian officials, Thai soldiers withdrew from the temple, only to return over the weekend and seal the ruins off from Cambodia, reinforcing a small fence at the temple with wood and metal bars, according to military commanders in the area.

“Fifty of our soldiers were sent to the temple but they are not allowed to cross the gate,” said Ho Bunthy, deputy commander of Border Military Unit 402.

“Our soldiers and the Thai soldiers are standing one metre from each other across the barbed wire,” he told the Post.

The flare-up over the border threatens to complicate crisis talks between Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers on August 18 over the monthlong standoff at Preah Vihear.
“We will raise the issue of Preah Vihear and these two temples, along with border demarcation, at the foreign ministers’s meeting next week,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sin Bunthoeun.

“We want to confirm that both Ta Moan Thom and Ta Moan Touch are in Cambodian territory....They [the Thais] claim they belong to them based on a map they drew themselves.”

Var Kimhong, chairman of the Joint Border Committee, alleged that Thai soldiers at Ta Moan Thom were placing fake border markers at the site to gain land illegally.
“It is useless for the Thai side to make a new border demarcation pole,” he said.

“They are wasting cement trying to make fake border poles because everything along the border is documented.”

Meanwhile, the Thai News Agency (TNA) on Wednesday reported that Thailand and Cambodia agreed to reduce the number of their military personnel guarding the site in an attempt to reduce tensions at their common border over a disputed temple ruin.
TNA said the agreement was reached following a meeting between Lt-Gen Suchit Sitthiprapa, Thailand’s Second Army commander, responsible for security affairs in northeastern Thailand, and Cambodian Deputy Defence Minister Gen Neang Paht at a hotel in Surin province bordering Cambodia.

Both sides agreed at the meeting to reduce the number of armed forces personnel guarding Ta Muen (Moan) Thom ruin which sits on Surin’s Phanom Dong Rak border district which Cambodia argues is in its Uddor (Oddar) Meanchey province.
Thailand and Cambodia also agreed to open the barbed wire installed at the ruin early Thursday so that military and the residents of both countries could communicate with each other and visit Ta Muen Thom ruin. Thais will also be allowed to visit another ruin which is about a kilometre deeper inside Cambodia.

Both countries agreed to hold another meeting next Monday in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin.

Tensions in the area heightened after Gen Boonsang Niempradit, Thai supreme commander, on August 4 asked Cambodia to withdraw its soldiers from the temple environs.

The demarcation boundary between the two countries has not yet been settled by the Thailand-Cambodia General Border Committee (GBC).

A Thai foreign ministry spokesman has said the Ta Muen Thom ruin is only one of a number of sites along the unclear boundary between the two countries. Thailand is trying to conduct its actions under the framework of the GBC, he said, and the temple problem should also be discussed under that mechanism.





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