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Tensions mount on border

Thai PM refuses to back down over Preah Vihear comments.

THAI Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday defended his request that UNESCO reconsider its listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site after being harshly criticised by Cambodian officials and accused of bolstering Thai military forces along the border.

"We are concerned that the moves by UNESCO may speed up conflicts, tensions or a border clash," Abhisit said during his weekend television programme.

But Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that if UNESCO's World Heritage Committee decides to de-list the Preah Vihear temple complex, it would heighten border tensions, where gunbattles between Thai and Cambodian soldiers have left at least seven people dead over the last year.

"We don't understand these comments, whether they want to threaten Cambodia or want to send a message to the UNESCO committee, which will meet on June 23 in Spain," Hor Namhong told reporters at a press conference on Saturday. "I do not understand whether these speeches were made with a lack of thought or out of ignorance or because they want to cause trouble."

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 805-kilometre-long shared border, in part because the area is littered with land mines.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told Thai media Saturday that Thailand's objection to the unilateral World Heritage listing of the 11th-century temple is an issue between Thailand and UNESCO,  and does not involve Cambodia.

Abhisit also said on Friday he would send his deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban,  to meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to explain their objections.

Hor Namhong said that the Thai comments have been backed up by a Thai military buildup, and that if the border dispute requires a military solution, Cambodia is ready.

"I heard that the Thai commander of Region 2 added more troops along the border, and they are on alert. I would like to stress that Cambodia is also prepared. If they want to seek a political resolution peacefully, if they want to use international laws, or if they want to seek a military resolution, we are already prepared in all ways." he said.

"Border fights have occurred twice, and if they want to send their troops to Cambodia for a third time, we welcome it," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An departed for Seville, Spain,  on Saturday to attend the UNESCO meeting.

Colonel Om Phirom, chief of Heritage Police for Preah Vihear temple, said Sunday that tensions were growing along the border as Thai soldiers prepared heavy weapons and tanks.

"We can't conclude what will be happen at the front line because both sides are full of heavy weapons and ammunition. We are concerned that the explosions will be bigger this time, if a clash does occur," Om Phirom said.

"We are worried about the temple's safety because it was damaged by Thai soldiers' bullets in many places in the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia over the last year," he added.

Sao Socheat, deputy commander of military Region 4, said the activity started about two weeks before Abhisit's request to delist the temple.

"The Thai military right now at the front line and behind their front line is busy in their territory. Their activities for the last two weeks have been strange in this area, but we know what they want to do here," Sao Socheat said.

The World Court in 1962 ruled that Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, but 4.6 square kilometres of land surrounding the ruins remains in dispute.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP 

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