Preah Vihear Province
PRIME Minister Hun Sen, dressed in full military fatigues, made an official visit to Preah Vihear temple on Saturday, during which he accused neighbouring Thailand of planning to invade Cambodia and called on troops to defend the Kingdom’s borders.
Joined by his wife, Bun Rany – who also donned camouflage gear – Hun Sen briefly toured Preah Vihear temple under heavy security, also inspecting weaponry and troops stationed near the contested border with Thailand.
“The border issues with Thailand have to be resolved through negotiation, but we will use force when Thai troops are invading Cambodia. The tanks and weapons are not here for exhibition only – they are here to fight against the enemy and invaders,” Hun Sen said. Thai officials, he added, “still keep it in their mind to invade Cambodia and do not know when they will stop”.
The border area, where a total of seven soldiers from both sides have been killed since July 2008, remains a potential flash point, with the opposing forces opening fire on one another last month in a series of skirmishes in which no one was hurt. Around the temple and central to the dispute is a 4.6-square-kilometre piece of land that each side claims as its own.
“Where is the 4.6 kilometers squared of land [claimed by Thailand]? It is a claim by Thai invaders,” Hun Sen said.
The premier picked up on similar themes in a speech on Sunday in the Mom Bey area of Preah Vihear province, promising not to back down in his ongoing war of words with Thai leaders.
“If the Thais keep up verbal attacks on Cambodia, then tomorrow I will keep up with verbal attacks on Thailand,” he said.
Despite his harsh remarks, however, Hun Sen received Thai Lieutenant General Veerawit Kajornrith and several colleagues who joined in a Buddhist ceremony on Saturday at the temple to pray for peace in the area.
“We are neighbouring countries, so we cannot be enemies forever,” Hun Sen told Veerawit, urging frequent talks between Thai and Cambodian commanders to avoid further armed confrontations. Veerawit thanked the prime minister for the welcome and assured him that the respective forces “often talk, and have tried to avoid all problems”.
In addition to his trip to the temple, Hun Sen attended the opening of a nearby school and distributed gifts and supplies to local villagers. He also visited the site near the temple of a market that was destroyed by Thai rocket fire last April. There he said it was up to Thailand to decide whether to pay compensation for the incident.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Sunday that Bangkok was unconcerned by Hun Sen’s trip, though he asserted his country’s claim to both the land surrounding Preah Vihear temple and to Oddar Meanchey province’s Tamone Thom temple, which Hun Sen reportedly plans to visit today.
“We have a normal procedure to receive the official visitors within our own area … so that should be the same as any other visit,” Panitan said.
Panitan declined to comment on Hun Sen’s invasion accusations, but said that should the Cambodian premier choose to visit Tamone Thom, a Thai delegation would be there to welcome him.
“I think when authorities are talking to a domestic audience, we will not comment on that, but our position is clear: Tamone Thom temple is on Thai territory,” he said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said there was “no need for the Thai side to send anybody to welcome [Hun Sen] and his delegation”, and that Tamone Thom has long belonged to Cambodia.
“If [Thai officials] come as guests, the cabinet delegation led by Prime Minister Hun Sen may welcome them,” Koy Kuong said.
In a statement released on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Thai claims to both Tamone Thom and the land surrounding Preah Vihear.
“It is very surprising and beyond comprehension that Thailand would consider sending a high-level official to welcome Samdech Techo Hun Sen, who is on a tour in the territory of Cambodia,” the statement read.
Also on Friday, Svay Sitha, chairman of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, wrote to Internet search engine Google to protest against maps appearing on the company’s mapping Web site that show Preah Vihear temple partially inside Thai territory.
Svay Sitha called the maps “devoid of truth and reality, and professionally irresponsible, if not pretentious”. He asked the company to take down the maps in question and replace them with an “internationally recognised map” that places Preah Vihear exclusively in Cambodia.
Last month, attempting to prove the legality of opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s uprooting of border posts in Svay Rieng province on the Vietnamese frontier in October, the Sam Rainsy Party released information based in part on Google-hosted maps of the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. These maps, the party argued, prove conclusively that the posts uprooted by Sam Rainsy had been placed on Cambodian territory.
Sam Rainsy, currently abroad, was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail in connection with the incident.
Google, in the terms of service for its mapping programme, says it “[makes] no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of any content or the products”.