Cambodian officials have turned down a Thai request for Cambodian and Thai troops to hold a joint New Year’s party near the disputed Preah Vihear temple, military sources said Monday.
Less than two weeks after a bloody gun battle between Thai and Cambodian soldiers at the temple, officials from Thailand proposed a New Year’s party near Preah Vihear, RCAF Regional 4 Deputy Chief of Staff Men Ly said by telephone.
“Thai troops asked Cambodian troops to celebrate at a New Year’s party at the border, but our troops rejected that invitation,” he said.
Radio Free Asia on Sunday quoted an anonymous Thai source as saying that the proposed party would have been held at the disputed Wat Keo Seka Kiri Svarak pagoda atop Preah Vihear mountain. The Thai and Khmer new years are celebrated on the same day.
Major General Srey Dek, Division 3 commander stationed at Preah Vihear temple, said that Cambodian soldiers did not have the time to attend a party held by the Thai military, and that he would not allow Thai soldiers to cross the border.
“[Thai troops] have no time to join us because some of them have withdrawn to Bangkok to control the situation there,” he added, referring to the escalating protests in the Thai capital.
Despite the rejected Thai invitation, Regional 4 Deputy Commander Pov Heng said that Cambodian soldiers will hold their own Khmer New Year parties this week. He added that about 20 percent of soldiers stationed at the Preah Vihear and Ta Moan temples would be allowed to travel home for the holiday.
“Now that the situation along the border is less tense, we will let some of them go home,” Mr Pov Heng said.
Regional 4 Chief of Staff Nark Vong said that Defense Minister Tea Banh had contributed money, food and drinks for soldiers’ New Year celebrations.
“We received canned fish, noodles and some money on Sunday, but I could not tell you how much,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Bethany Lindsay)