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UN to meet over Preah Vihear

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Foreign Minister Hor Namhong speaks to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport before departing for New York on Friday.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong is set to appear tomorrow alongside his Thai counterpart before the United Nations Security Council as the body addresses the outbreak of fighting between the two countries earlier this month.

Cambodian and Thai troops stationed at the border near Preah Vihear temple engaged in four consecutive days of clashes earlier this month, leaving at least 10 people dead and displacing thousands of civilians from both nations.

Speaking at the Phnom Penh International Airport prior to his departure for New York on Friday, Hor Namhong said he planned to brief the Security Council about Thailand’s “invasion”.

“I will inform the UN about the reasons that Thailand is making war against Cambodia and I will request that the UN guarantee an end to the fighting,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen called last week for the UN to deploy peacekeepers along the border in a bid to stem the hostilities.

Thailand, however, has consistently argued that the conflict would be best resolved under the auspices of the countries’ bilateral Joint Border Committee.

In his weekly television address today, Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva reportedly said Thailand would use the UN meeting to refute Cambodia’s claims about Thai aggression and press for a bilateral resolution to the conflict.

“We’re confident that we can explain that [Cambodia’s claims] are wrong,” Abhisit said.

“Cambodia is calling for [intervention by] a third country, the UN and peacekeeping forces.

“Thailand will call for a return to bilateral talks on demarcation.”

Thai officials including Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya are prepared to present evidence to the UN showing that Cambodia used Preah Vihear as a military base in violation of its international obligations.

Tensions between the two countries have been heightened since 2008, when the 11th century temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia over Thai objections.

At least seven troops had been killed in periodic skirmishes in the area prior to the most recent round of clashes.

UNESCO said in a statement on Friday that former UNESCO head Koichiro Matsuura of Japan had been appointed as Special Envoy to address the Preah Vihear issue with Cambodia and Thailand.

“Mr Matsuura … will visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss how the World Heritage site can be safeguarded.

“He will examine with both sides how to lessen tension and promote dialogue around the preservation of the temple, within the organisation’s mandate,” UNESCO said.

No date has yet been announced for Matsuura’s visit.

The temple sustained surface-level damage to its staircases and exterior during the fighting from bullet and artillery fire, while Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, a nearby pagoda, was also hit.

Thailand and Cambodia clashed at a UNESCO meeting last year in Brazil at which the Kingdom submitted management plans for the temple.

Thailand has called for the site’s World Heritage registration to be delayed pending a resolution of the countries’ border disagreement.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has also offered assistance in resolving the dispute.

Indonesia, which holds the ASEAN chair, has invited foreign ministers from all 10 members of the regional bloc to a meeting in Jakarta on February 22 to discuss the issue, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said.

Thailand has also agreed to attend the ASEAN meeting, which Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has said will aim to facilitate a bilateral solution to the dispute.

Natalegawa met with senior Cambodian and Thai officials last week to discuss the issue.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit said four Cambodian soldiers, one policeman and two civilians had been killed in the clashes.

Some 31 people were injured and 2,956 families were displaced by the fighting, the statement added.

“Although there have been no major attacks since 7 February, there remains a high risk that renewed attacks may be mounted at any time, particularly as Thailand continues to increase  its forces and weaponry along the Cambodian-Thai border,” the statement said.

Men Sophea, a Cambodian solider stationed at the border, said today that the situation at the border was quiet, though he claimed Thai troops had attempted over the weekend to provoke their Cambodian counterparts by setting off grenades near the frontline.

The Bangkok Post reported on Saturday that Thai commanders had ordered an additional 20,000 troops to the area.

Chum Poy, governor of Kulen district in Preah Vihear province, said today that roughly 500 of the 2,956 families evacuated in the fighting had returned to their homes.

Local officials will consider allowing the remaining families to return home after learning the result of the UN meeting today, he said.

Groups including the National Committee for Disaster Management and the Cambodian Red Cross are providing aid to the displaced, and on Friday, Hun Sen ordered government officials to provide further assistance in accommodation and sanitation at the temporary shelters.

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