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Bringing world pressure to bear

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No question who owns land around temple: govt

VANDY RATTANA

Cambodian soldiers carry the national flag near the Preah Vihear temple complex.

As leaders from Cambodia and Thailand prepare for crisis talks next week over the military standoff at Preah Vihear, government officials say they hope international pressure would convince Bangkok to remove its troops from Cambodian territory.

Both sides have massed hundreds of soldiers in a disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple, while deploying thousands more to the border in the largest recent buildup of military manpower and hardware.

At the heart of the dispute is an area of 4.8 square kilometers around the temple that remains contested after the World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia. The temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 7 after years of resistance from Bangkok to the inscription, further inflaming Thai nationalism.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, have both exchanged letters claiming ownership over the territory, which includes a Buddhist pagoda some 200 meters from Preah Vihear temple that has been the rallying point for both Thai and Cambodian troops, who remain locked in a peaceful, but guarded standoff.

“I hope that the [Thai] soldiers will withdraw from Cambodian land ... because they themselves know very well [it is not theirs],” said interior ministry secretary of state Nuth Sa An.

“If they do not agree, they will be confronted by the international community, which recognizes this as Cambodian,” he told the Post on July 21.

Defense ministry secretary of state Chum Sambath agreed, saying the alleged Thai incursion was a test of Cambodia’s future willingness to confront its larger neighbor on border issues.

“They probably want to test us – if we do not react and are weak, they will take it [land] from us,” he said. “There’s no reason for the Thai soldiers not to withdraw because the international community recognizes the map that Cambodia has used to draw the [border] line,” he said.

Amid escalating tensions, ASEAN leaders earlier urged the two countries to exercise restraint ahead of the grouping’s annual ministerial meeting, which was largely overshadowed by the dispute.

Cambodia this week requested that the UN Security Council intervene in the issue, but later asked that no action be taken until foreign ministers from both sides meet next week in another round of crisis talks.

But on July 24 government spokesman Khieu Kanharith raised the possibility that Cambodia would again seek to take its case to the World Court as he also urged the international community to recognize Cambodia’s ownership over the dispute land.

“We hope that this will not reach the point of conflict, that war with Thailand is still a long way off because legal action is still going on,” he told reporters.

“We might go to the International Court of Justice again ... the Thais do not respect international law,” he added.

Amid fears that the crisis could erupt into violence if diplomatic efforts dragged on for too long without a resolution, Nuth Sa An maintained that the Cambodian side would not fight, saying the country “needed peace.”

“I believe that this will be resolved peacefully and that there will be no fighting,” he said, adding that an outbreak of fighting would hurt worse in Thailand, which is already bogged down in a separatist insurgency in its southern provinces.

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