Cambodia seeks UN intervention in Thai dispute

July 23, 2008 at 2:29 am Leave a comment

By SOPHENG CHEANG 

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AP) – Cambodia asked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to intervene in its dispute with Thailand over land near an ancient temple, saying the standoff had created “an imminent state of war.”

A Cambodian soldier relaxes near a rocket launcher outside a Buddhist pagoda where Thai soldiers have occupied, near Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia, Tuesday, July 22, 2008. Cambodia has requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to break a military stalemate with neighboring Thailand over disputed frontier territory around a historic temple. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian soldiers relax as they hold rocket launchers outside a Buddhist pagoda where Thai soldiers have occupied, near Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia, Tuesday, July 22, 2008. Cambodia has requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to break a military stalemate with neighboring Thailand over disputed frontier territory around a historic temple. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

But a clash seemed a remote possibility near the hilltop Preah Vihear temple, where more than 4,000 troops from both countries were camped out. The soldiers – some without their weapons – shared cigarettes, ate and chatted together in a disputed area a few hundred yards from the site.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, using the harshest terms yet in the confrontation, said he had no choice but to appeal to the U.N. after discussions with Thailand on Monday failed to produce a breakthrough in the weeklong crisis. He made a similar request to the grouping of Southeast Asian nations.

“In the face of this imminent state of war, this very serious threat to our independence and territorial integrity, we have an obligation to resort to the U.N. Security Council,” Hor Namhong said.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat rejected the appeal to the U.N., saying he still felt “that bilateral options are still not exhausted.”

After the meeting with Hor Namhong, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli told reporters that “we’re disappointed that this has happened.”

“The movement of troops is something that is always worrisome,” he said following the talks, which included other foreign ambassadors. “When you have that many young men with that many weapons in that close proximity, there’s always a danger of violence.”

The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near the Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s government for supporting Cambodia’s application to UNESCO. They claim the temple’s new status will undermine Thailand’s claim to land around the temple. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

On the Thai side of the border, Thailand’s regional commander Lt. Gen. Sujit Sithiprapa said he was confident that fighting would not break out.

“Although we have troops up there, there is clear understanding and clear order that no one will use force,” Sujit told an Associated Press reporter. “The governments will have to resolve legal issues but the situation here remains normal.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Cambodian officers. “Nothing has changed. We have received orders to continue maintaining patience” after the talks failed, Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo said Tuesday.

But the atmosphere in a border town of Kantaralak in Thailand’s Sisaket province was less optimistic, with villagers expressing fears that the government would resort to military action, which would damage the tourism industry.

“I don’t want to lose Thai soil to Cambodia and I believe Thailand would do everything to protect our sovereignty,” Boonruem Pongsapan, a local teacher at the border town of Kantaralak, said. “But I am scared there will be military action. Most parents of my students rely on tourists. What would we do now?”

Associated Press writers Ambika Ahuja and Sutin Wannabovorn in Bangkok, Thailand, Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Sumeth Panpetch along the Thai-Cambodian border contributed to this report.

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Entry filed under: Preah Vihear Issue. Tags: , .

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