Cambodia demands Thai troops pull back

August 5, 2008 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

The Associated Press

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia demanded on Tuesday that Thailand pull its troops back from a second temple site along their border, the latest in a series of territorial claims and counterclaims that have prompted armed tensions between the Asian neighbors.

The dispute surrounding the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple started when Cambodian officials said some 70 Thai soldiers started occupying the temple site last week and prevented Cambodian troops from entering. Thai military officials countered that their troops had been in the area for years.

Thai army commander Gen. Anupong Paojindasaid said Tuesday the temple is within “Thai territory.”

Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh, however, said the temple “is clearly under our sovereignty, and we have to demand it back.”

“Our position is to try to talk to them (Thai troops) and get them to withdraw to where they came from,” Cambodia’s Tea Banh told reporters Tuesday.

Cambodian Maj. Ho Bunthy, an army commander in the area, said Tuesday about 50 Cambodian soldiers were stationed near the Thai troops and another 200 deployed about 330 yards (300 meters) from the temple site.

Thailand’s Lt. Gen. Niphat Thonglek, chief of the Border Affairs Department, said Tuesday the Cambodian troops were normally allowed to enter the site because they usually came in small groups and they were unarmed.

“Over the weekend, about 40 to 50 of them came and they were armed, so the Thai troops did not allow them in,” said Niphat.

Ta Moan Thom temple was built in the 13th century as a rest house along a road linking the ancient city of Angkor with what is currently northeastern Thailand, said Chuch Phoeun of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.

It is located several hundred miles (kilometers) west of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby land.

That dispute erupted last month near the Hindu-style Preah Vihear when UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking anti-government demonstrations by Thais near the temple. Thailand then sent troops to the border area.

Thai government critics say the temple’s new status will jeopardize their country’s claims to land adjacent to the site.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand remain at a pagoda near the temple complex, despite a tentative agreement reached by foreign ministers last week to redeploy them in an effort to ease tensions.

Anupong, the Thai army chief, said the Thai troops were waiting for orders from the government.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said new talks with Thailand will have to wait until after a new government takes office in Phnom Penh following elections last month.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia. The decision still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex.

Although it is not as well known as the Angkor or Preah Vihear temples, Ta Moan Thom is another of the architectural wonders of the ancient Khmer empire.

___

Associated Press writer Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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

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