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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thai military digging in near border

Thai military digging in near border

Top officials have played down tensions with Thailand over an ongoing dispute at

Preah Vihear Temple, despite reports that Thai soldiers have dug trenches and set

up barbed wire along the neutral zone between the countries.

Three soldiers living in the area each told the Post that on May 18 Thai troops begin

digging trenches, stacking sandbags and erecting fences on the Thai side of the border.

All three requested anonymity because they feared repercussions from higher officials.

Relations have been strained between the Cambodian and Thai military since May 12,

when several hundred Thai troops were deployed to the border area at around 10 p.m.

The following morning the border was closed, with no tourists being allowed through

to visit the temple. As a result, Cambodia declared its side of the border closed.

At issue is the use of a neutral area, or "white zone", that divides the

two nations.

The Thai military told the Bangkok Post that approximately 100 Cambodian villagers

had begun living in the disputed area and refused requests from Thai officials to

move out.

But Pall San, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, denied the report, saying

the tensions had been sparked by Thai troops clearing landmines close to the border.

San said he had received a phone called from a Thai governor on May 18 asking for

a meeting, but that no written request had been made.

"I think that the gate to the temple will reopen when the Thais show a sign

of good conduct," San said.

A member of the Cambodian military stationed at the border posting said moves to

ease the situation had already begun.

"The Thai military told us that some of their troops will withdraw from today

[May 19], and all the troops will withdraw in a week if they receive new orders from

top officials," said the RCAF source by phone, on condition of anonymity.

Tea Banh, minister of defense, told reporters that there was no tension with Thailand

over Preah Vihear, despite the issue being discussed during the May 18 session of

the National Assembly.

"Now, there is nobody who dares to make an abuse [of the neutral zone], but

if they abuse [it], it will be good for us," said Tea Banh, but did not elaborate

on why an incursion would be good.

"We are not ordering soldiers to be moved because we take measures depending

on the law," Banh said.

Long Visalo, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told members

of parliament that the activities of Thai soldiers in the neutral area were contrary

to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two countries in 2000.

"If one party wants to do something, they have to inform the other party in

advance, and it was against the MoU that Thailand has conducted its activities without

informing Cambodia in advance," Visalo said.

Prince Norodom Sirivudh, co-minister of interior, said that reports about the border

confrontation had shown the public that different opinions exist between the local

authorities and the Phnom Penh-based government ministers.

He called for governors, authorities and officials at the Ministry of Interior and

Ministry of Defense to discuss their comments before making statements to the media.

The tensions at Preah Vihear come shortly after the May 7 shooting of five Cambodian

furniture factory workers in Rak Yong province of Thailand. Thai authorities have

said the attack was personally motivated, but Cambodia has urged a full investigation.

Also underscoring the cross-border unease was the first meeting of Cambodia's newly

formed Supreme National Council of Border Affairs (SNCBA) in Beijing.

King Father Norodom Sihanouk, chairman of SNCBA, said the meeting had gone well and

acknowledged that Cambodia had lost ground to its neighbors.



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