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Tensions rise ahead of crisis talks

Tensions rise ahead of crisis talks

Tensions remain high at Preah Vihear as Cambodian and Thai troops continue to mass along the border ahead of crisis talks Monday that are hoped to defuse the standoff over territory around the 11th century temple.

More than 1,500 soldiers have now been deployed to Preah Vihear, where Cambodia maintains that Thai troops crossed into its territory last week and continue to occupy land near the temple.

"Thai soldiers have violated Cambodian territory ... I am sorry that they will not leave," Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told reporters over the weekend after making a trip to the area.

"Preah Vihear is internationally recognized as Cambodia's. So when Thais protest about this, they are protesting against the international community."

Cambodia has written a letter to the UN Security Council informing it of the standoff, officials said over the weekend.

Military officials and diplomatic personnel from China, Vietnam, France and the United States have also traveled to Preah Vihear to review the situation.

Bangkok insists that its soldiers are on Thai territory, and has refused to withdraw them despite Thai military commanders saying Friday that they would leave.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, have each written letters to other claiming the territory and urging the removal of troops ahead of talks to be held in Thailand on Monday. Hun Sen said last week that the worsening situation was "very bad for relations" between the two countries. 

"These [Thai] soldiers have encroached on our territory ... and have since increased in number rather than withdrawing," Hun Sen wrote, according to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

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. The temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 7 after years of resistance from Bangkok to the inscription, further inflaming Thai nationalism.

Cambodian military police commander Sao Sokha, however, said it is unlikely the dispute will erupt in violence, despite the concentration of men and weapons. "Why would we shoot each other? Let our leaders solve this problem ... we are all Buddhists here," he said, urging the Thais to stop sending troops to the area. A senior Cambodian military commander who did not want to be named also said the Thais were massing troops across the border from Anlong Veng in northern Cambodia. "We have also sent our troops to Anlong Veng. We are matching them at all points along the border," he told the Post on Saturday. The crisis began last Tuesday when Cambodia says Thai soldiers crossed the border and took up positions in Cambodian territory following the arrest of three Thais who jumped an international checkpoint to try and protest Preah Vihear's ownership.

The temple has been closed to Thais since last month, when a group of angry demonstrators massed on the Thai side of the border crossing to rally against Cambodia's claim to the temple.

The dispute has caused political turmoil in Thailand, as opposition parties seized on the issue to put pressure on Samak's government.

 

On July 10, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama stepped down after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had acted illegally in signing an agreement supporting Cambodia’s bid to have Preah Vihear temple listed as a World Heritage Site without the permission of parliament.

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