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Border reopening delayed

Border reopening delayed

The planned reopening of the Preah Vihear border gate has been pushed back by a month, officials said, due to disagreements between the Thai and Cambodian governments.

Hang Soth, secretary general of the Preah Vihear National Authority, said the two sides had intended to reopen the border this Sunday, but that negotiations had broken down.

“We have decided to delay the reopening of the Preah Vihear border gate for another month due to failure to reach an agreement between Cambodia and Thailand,” Hang Soth said yesterday. He did not elaborate on the reasons for the disagreement and said there was no guarantee the border would open in line with the new deadline.

On Monday, Cambodian officials said the reopening had been preceded by a coordinated withdrawal of troops that began a day earlier, and that Cambodian trenches close to the temple had been filled in.

Om Phirum, heritage police chief for the Preah Vihear National Authority, said the road up to the temple was temporarily closed on Tuesday, preventing tourists from visiting the temple while the troops stationed in the area were withdrawn.

“We blocked this road for just a short time as the soldiers are withdrawn to their bases and we don’t want the people to see the movement of troops,” he said.

The border at the eleventh-century temple has been closed since July 2008, when UNESCO listed Preah Vihear as a Cambodian World Heritage site, triggering a military build-up at the border.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in October that the border would be opened when Thailand withdrew its troops from Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, a pagoda several hundred metres from the temple.

An officer from Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit stationed at Preah Vihear temple said soldiers from both sides had withdrawn from most areas near the temple, but that eight Thai soldiers remained in their positions at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara.

“According to the information we received, the Thai soldiers will not be allowed to come to the pagoda tomorrow [today],” said the officer, who declined to be named.

Thai officials, however, have denied any withdrawal of their troops from the temple frontline. In a report yesterday, The Bangkok Post quoted Second Army Region commander Thawatchai Samutsakhon as saying no troop withdrawals had or would take place.

“Cambodia wants us to reduce troops but we cannot just do so alone [without reciprocal action from Cambodia]. Besides, we’re not confident in the situation,” Thawatchai said.

“We’re not going to retreat, especially from Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, where Thai and Cambodian troops are positioned together.” He added: “Cambodia should also clear [their troops and weapons] from the Preah Vihear temple.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also stated that Thai troops would not be withdrawn. “There will be no withdrawal of the soldiers while there are still villagers in the area,” he said yesterday, citing Friday as the day for the planned reopening.

Also yesterday, the joint House-Senate committee scrutinising the three Joint Boundary Commission memoranda will ask for another 90 days to complete its work, said panel secretary Ratchada Thanadirek. The Thai parliament has to sign off on the documents in order for further border negotiations to move ahead.

Senior Minister Var Kimhong, Cambodia’s top border negotiator, said that if Thailand continued to delay in approving the JBC minutes, it would lay bare the government’s unwillingness to engage on the border issue.

“I have not yet learned information about the delay, but if it is true, I would regret it,” Var Kimhong said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THE BANGKOK POST