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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UNESCO meet raises the stakes on Preah Vihear

UNESCO meet raises the stakes on Preah Vihear

The favourable outcome for Cambodia in Spain could translate to more confrontation on the border, according to senior military officers.

THE meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain, ended Tuesday without discussing Thailand's challenge to the committee's July 2008 decision to list the disputed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

But Cambodian military officials at the border say the committee's decision not to review the case could further heighten tensions and prompt another armed clash, following armed confrontations in October 2008 and in April of this year.

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said last month that a joint listing of Preah Vihear temple would better promote peace and tourism around the 11th-century temple complex, according to Thai media.

 

More Thai troops, tanks and artillery have been sent to confront our troops.

He pledged that Thailand would use the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee to challenge the inscription of the temple.

"I would like to see peace in the area and people from both sides benefit from a joint listing of this site," Abhisit was quoted as saying.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that Thailand's inability to get its objections onto the committee's agenda was a "diplomatic failure".

Yim Phim, the commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Brigade 8 stationed in Preah Vihear province, said that although he welcomed the committee's  decision, he worries that Thai soldiers may be angry and start another border clash.

"We are on alert after the Thai failure to get it reviewed," he said. "I am told that more Thai troops, tanks and artillery have been sent to confront our troops."

Raising the stakes

Phorng Eung, a Cambodian soldier, said that Thailand has been evacuating villages near the Preah Vihear border, a sign Thailand could be planning something.

"Thai solders have asked their people to leave villages near the temple, but our villagers at Ko Muoy are doing business as usual," he said.

"Because the Thais did not get their way, they are not happy and might do something at the border. We are on alert 24 hours a day."

But Ros Heng, deputy governor of Chom Ksan district near the Preah Vihear temple, said that villagers in his district are preparing for the possibility of more conflict.

"Some of our people are digging trenches after we informed them in Ko Muoy and Sam Em villages near the front line to protect themselves from Thai shells," Ros Heng said.

"We alerted out people to prevent an accident from happening. It is better to take action first," he said.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, although the most accessible entrance to temple is in Thailand.

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