Top officials have played down tensions with Thailand over an ongoing dispute at
Preah Vihear Temple, despite reports that Thai soldiers have dug trenches and set
up barbed wire along the neutral zone between the countries.
Three soldiers living in the area each told the Post that on May 18 Thai troops begin
digging trenches, stacking sandbags and erecting fences on the Thai side of the border.
All three requested anonymity because they feared repercussions from higher officials.
Relations have been strained between the Cambodian and Thai military since May 12,
when several hundred Thai troops were deployed to the border area at around 10 p.m.
The following morning the border was closed, with no tourists being allowed through
to visit the temple. As a result, Cambodia declared its side of the border closed.
At issue is the use of a neutral area, or "white zone", that divides the
The Thai military told the Bangkok Post that approximately 100 Cambodian villagers
had begun living in the disputed area and refused requests from Thai officials to
But Pall San, deputy governor of Preah Vihear province, denied the report, saying
the tensions had been sparked by Thai troops clearing landmines close to the border.
San said he had received a phone called from a Thai governor on May 18 asking for
a meeting, but that no written request had been made.
"I think that the gate to the temple will reopen when the Thais show a sign
of good conduct," San said.
A member of the Cambodian military stationed at the border posting said moves to
ease the situation had already begun.
"The Thai military told us that some of their troops will withdraw from today
[May 19], and all the troops will withdraw in a week if they receive new orders from
top officials," said the RCAF source by phone, on condition of anonymity.
Tea Banh, minister of defense, told reporters that there was no tension with Thailand
over Preah Vihear, despite the issue being discussed during the May 18 session of
the National Assembly.
"Now, there is nobody who dares to make an abuse [of the neutral zone], but
if they abuse [it], it will be good for us," said Tea Banh, but did not elaborate
on why an incursion would be good.
"We are not ordering soldiers to be moved because we take measures depending
on the law," Banh said.
Long Visalo, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told members
of parliament that the activities of Thai soldiers in the neutral area were contrary
to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two countries in 2000.
"If one party wants to do something, they have to inform the other party in
advance, and it was against the MoU that Thailand has conducted its activities without
informing Cambodia in advance," Visalo said.
Prince Norodom Sirivudh, co-minister of interior, said that reports about the border
confrontation had shown the public that different opinions exist between the local
authorities and the Phnom Penh-based government ministers.
He called for governors, authorities and officials at the Ministry of Interior and
Ministry of Defense to discuss their comments before making statements to the media.
The tensions at Preah Vihear come shortly after the May 7 shooting of five Cambodian
furniture factory workers in Rak Yong province of Thailand. Thai authorities have
said the attack was personally motivated, but Cambodia has urged a full investigation.
Also underscoring the cross-border unease was the first meeting of Cambodia's newly
formed Supreme National Council of Border Affairs (SNCBA) in Beijing.
King Father Norodom Sihanouk, chairman of SNCBA, said the meeting had gone well and
acknowledged that Cambodia had lost ground to its neighbors.