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Border crisis spirals

Border crisis spirals

Brendan Brady

Cambodian soldiers carry razor wire down the stairs of Preah Vihear temple, where they are locked in a standoff with Thai troops over disputed territory.

Cambodia on Tuesday asked the UN Security Council and Asean to intervene as the military standoff with Thailand at Preah Vihear escalated after crisis talks between the countries' leaders ended in deadlock.

Top military officials met Monday in a bid to defuse rising tensions over the alleged incursion by Thai troops into Cambodia, but discussions collapsed after the Thai side insisted on recognizing a different border map between the two countries, Cambodian negotiators said.

Thousands of troops and equipment from both sides have been deployed to the border in the largest military build-up in years, sparking fears among regional leaders that the standoff could erupt into open warfare.

Thailand has also massed men and weapons, including tanks and heavy artillery, along their side of the border between Preah Vihear and Anlong Veng, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Tuesday.

"In the face of this war-like threat to our independence, the UN Security Council has an obligation to resolve this issue and force the implementation of international law," Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told foreign diplomats Tuesday.

He added that the Security Council could meet on Monday to discuss the situation, although Chan Tany, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, said no reply had been given yet by the UN.

An area of 4.8 square kilometers around the temple remains in dispute after the World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia. Bangkok maintains that its troops are occupying Thai territory located a short distance from the 11th-century temple – a claim that has repeatedly been rejected by Cambodia.

"Thailand is using a map that it has drawn itself very recently to claim many parts of the border," Hor Namhong said. 

The issue escalated following Preah Vihear's July 7 listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government coming under fire for supporting Cambodia's World Heritage bid amid accusations that Thailand's leaders were ceding territory to Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a letter to UNESCO, said Thailand's actions were a threat to peace in the region and urged the organization to pressure the Security Council to act.

"At first, everything in the meeting was going very well. But at the end, it failed because the Thai side raised the issue of its right to use its own map," said Bun Seng, commander of Cambodian Military Region 5, who attended the eight-hour talks Monday in the Thai-Cambodian border town of Aranyaprathet.

"We have different ideas on this point. We use the map drawn by France in 1904 and 1907, but the Thai side wants to use its own map. It's completely different," he told the Post on Tuesday.

"That is why when they raised the issue of the map, everything failed. I am very disappointed," he added.

Cambodia's government also called Tuesday on its regional neighbors to intervene in the issue, asking Asean chair Singapore to form an "inter-ministerial group" to mediate a solution to end the standoff, according to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Bangkok has rejected the request, saying no third parties were needed to negotiate a resolution. Asean leader had earlier urged both sides to exercise restraint as they continued to deploy troops to the area, while diplomats in Phnom Penh on Tuesday said they were hopeful that a peaceful solution would be found.

"We are optimistic that both sides will continue to act in a responsible manner," said US ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, following a briefing for diplomats by Hor Namhong.

In Preah Vihear, the failure of the countries' military leader to resolve the crisis came as no surprise to many troops on the ground.

"I'm not surprised there has not been an agreement since so much has happened already," Vou Vinak, a 26 year-old Cambodian soldier, told the Post Monday night along what has become a de facto frontline near the temple.

Coils of razor wire have been laid in parts of the temple compound, while heavily armed Thai and Cambodian soldiers from who have gathered near a Buddhist pagoda that is claimed by both sides continued to eye each other warily.

"I'm very frustrated. I've been made to leave my family. Thailand made this problem by invading, so they should fix it," said another soldier, Sim Nara.

Bun Seng said talks are expected to continue, but nothing has yet been scheduled.

"We have tried hard for success, but then the Thai side made it [the meeting] fail. We will have further negotiations, but we do not know when," he said. (Additional reporting by Cheang Sokha and Brendan Brady)

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