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Send border observers now: PM

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during the closing ceremony of an art festival in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on Indonesia to “immediately” dispatch a promised team of military observers to the Thai-Cambodian border regardless of whether Thailand delays its approval of the arrangement.

Speaking yesterday at Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh, the premier said Cambodia had already approved the terms of reference for the observers that were sent by Indonesia in its capacity as chair of ASEAN.

Thanks to an agreement brokered between Cambodia and Thailand last month in Jakarta, 15 unarmed Indonesian observers will be dispatched on either side of the contentious border near Preah Vihear temple, where four days of clashes in February left 10 people dead, dozens injured and thousands of civilians displaced.

Koy Kuong, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, told The Post on Wednesday that Cambodia had “clearly stated” to Indonesia that it would accept observers regardless of Thailand’s response.

Hun Sen said yesterday that Bangkok had yet to grant final approval for the observers despite agreeing to the arrangement in principle.

“The UN and ASEAN aren’t coming to resolve the border dispute – they are coming to see who shoots first and who invades,” the premier said.

“If you are not a thief, don’t be afraid of the police.”

The Bangkok Post reported earlier this week that Thai Army commander-in-chief Prayuth Chan-ocha had said Thailand would need to restrict the Indonesian observers’ activities at the border.

“I want [the border conflict] to remain a bilateral issue and do not want any third country to step in, therefore imposing limits on access is needed,’’ Prayuth was quoted as saying.

Also yesterday, Cambodian officials led a group of military attachés from 13 countries on a tour of the temple to allow them to see the damage it sustained during last month’s fighting, said Chan Chhorn, information officer for the Preah Vihear National Authority.

“We brought them to see the holes from where mortar shells landed near the temple and to see the damage to the temple and the pagoda,” he said.

According to an unnamed military source quoted in the Bangkok Post, the United States, France, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Burma, Vietnam and Laos sent attachés on today’s visit.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said UNESCO would send a team of experts to inspect the temple once military observers have arrived, following meetings with special envoy Koichiro Matsuura this week.

Preah Vihear sustained surface-level damage from bullet and artillery fire during last month’s clashes, though little apparent structural harm. An adjacent pagoda, Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, was also damaged.

The visit yesterday came despite the protest of Thai troops, according to the unnamed military source quoted by the Bangkok Post, who said Thailand was afraid the attachés would be taken to a patch of
land near the temple that is claimed by both sides.

“Cambodia violated an agreement by taking a group of people to the disputed area without Thailand’s consent,” the source was quoted as saying.

Thailand organised its own expedition to the border last month for military attachés posted in Bangkok.

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