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Officials open to talks ahead of Thai visit

Officials open to talks ahead of Thai visit

Cambodian officials said Tuesday they had yet to receive official notification of a visit this weekend by Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, reportedly to hold talks with Hun Sen on the growing dispute over Preah Vihear temple's World Heritage listing, according to Thai media.

"We haven't received an official letter from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs informing us about the visit," Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said, adding that Cambodia welcomed any negotiations on the issue.

The Bangkok Post reported Tuesday that Suthep would arrive Saturday to clarify Thailand's position on the temple, following Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's announcement last week that Bangkok would challenge the temple's World Heritage status at this week's UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville, Spain.

Abhisit's announcement prompted Hun Sen to accuse Thailand of "infringing" on Cambodia's sovereignty.

Union leader Rong Chhun, a vocal critic of Thailand's moves on the frontier, said Tuesday that he has no plan to protest against Suthep's proposed visit, but said the machinations of the Thai government showed it has no real intention of resolving the border standoff with Cambodia.

"I think that Thailand's activity has clearly infringed on Cambodia's sovereignty, and the visit of the Thai government is just to lobby and prolong the conflict, in order to bide their time and take our land," he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Tuesday that the 33rd Session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, which opened Monday, was yet to address Thai complaints about the inscription of Preah Vihear.

The temple was listed in July 2008, prompting an escalation of tensions between Cambodia and Thailand and a troop buildup along the border. Thailand has long sought the joint listing of the site.

Cambodian border troops remain on alert, reporting that Thailand brought up tanks, artillery and infantry to Phnom Trop, a few kilometres from Preah Vihear.

An RCAF officer stationed at the temple, who declined to be named, said the Thai action had forced Cambodia to bolster its own forces at the front.

"We held a tank exercise [Monday] at the hillside near the temple," he said. "It is just an exercise. We want to show Thailand that we have everything ready for battle. If they dare to come into Cambodian territory, we will resist them."

According to Thai media reports, Thai army chief General Anupong Paojinda made a visit to the Thai-Cambodia border near Preah Vihear temple Tuesday morning, following reports Cambodia had sent re-inforcements of troops, 130mm artillery pieces and T-54 tanks to the border.

Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, said he did not meet Anupong, but added that the Cambodians, in pulling up additional armed forces, were only reacting to Thai moves.

Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary of the Thai Embassy, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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