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21 June 2009

Thai-Cambodia Border Dispute:
Thailand’s raising of temple issue irks Cambodia

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Cambodia on Saturday rebuked Thailand for reopening a debate over an ancient temple on their disputed border that has led to seven soldiers being killed, AFP reported.

High-ranking Thai officials this week asked world heritage body UNESCO to reconsider its decision to formally list the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, as ownership of land surrounding the ruins is still in dispute.

Soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand continue to patrol the area and occasional outbreaks of violence between them have triggered gunbattles that have killed seven troops in the past year.

But Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters that soldiers would be ready to defend their land again if necessary.

"Cambodia welcomes Thailand militarily, diplomatically, internationally or through peaceful negotiations," Hor Namhong said.

"(But) it (border fighting) has happened twice... (so) if they want to send their troops to Cambodia a third time, we will welcome them too," he said.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made a one-day visit to Cambodia last week in an attempt to push forward border talks, but his subsequent comments only appear to have reignited the dispute.

"I heard that the second Thai commander on the border put his troops on alert and I'd like to tell them that Cambodian soldiers are also on alert," Hor Namhong added.

Responding to the remarks, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Pirom said his country’s objection to the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site is directed at the World Heritage Committee and Unesco and not at Cambodia, reported Bangkok-based daily the Nation.

"This issue is between Thailand and the World Heritage Committee and Unesco, and not between Thailand and Cambodia," said Kasit, noting that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had said that Cambodia was not involved.

Kasit declined to say whether the Thai action would affect the decision last year to register Cambodia's unilateral listing of the Hindu temple because it was up to the committee and Thailand was attending not as a member but as observer.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban is meeting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen next week in order to clarify Thailand's objection to the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple ruins as a World Heritage Site, the Nation reported.

Cambodia and Thailand have been at loggerheads over the land around the Preah Vihear temple for decades, but tensions spilled over into violence last July when the temple was granted UN World Heritage status.

The border between the two countries has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.


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