banteay ampil district, Oddar Meanchey province – Speaking about 2 km from the Ta Moan temple complex along the Thai border, Prime Minister Hun Sen–who did not visit the disputed 13th century monument as expected–ratcheted up his rhetoric against Thailand yesterday, particularly against Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for comments made to the Thai media.
“You attack me personally. I attack you personally,” he said of the Thai leader.
Mr Hun Sen, a five-star general who arrived by helicopter yesterday morning clad in black with a red beret, told the crowd of mote than 1,000 at-ease soldiers and RCAF personnel that he had a message for Bangkok after the Cambodian leader’s visit to the contentious border zone created a flurry of news reports on both sides of the border.
“I come here just to talk about the mechanism concerning development and national defense, including keeping good communication with Thais,” the premier said.
“Abhisit said on Sunday that the Thai government will use Mr Hun Sen’s speech to show the [Unesco’s] World Heritage Committee that the area surrounding Preah Vihear [temple] is clearly Thai property,” he said two days after his first visit to the monument, which has been a source of on-and-off fighting with Thailand since its successful listing by Cambodia as a World Heritage Site in July 2008.
Mr Hun Sen also cited a report that Abhisit said the choice of army fatigues by the Cambodian premier during his visit was for political reasons.
“Abhisit finds that dressing in military uniform at Preah Vihear by Mr Hun Sen is for a political purpose,” he said during a roughly hour-and-a-half speech at the headquarters of the 422nd military police battalion in Banteay Ampil district’s Kok Mon commune. “I wear military uniform, or whatever uniform. It doesn’t have to do with Abhisit’s head.”
“But just one visit in my country, what’s going on in your head in Bangkok, holding meetings…and asking Hun Sen to talk first on 4.6 issue,” he continued, referring to his trip to Preah Vihear temple Saturday, where 4.6 sq km of land are disputed.
Speaking at a news conference in Phnom Penh, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong stressed Mr Hun Sen never explicitly stated he would visit the ruins though several high-ranking Cambodian officials said he was expected to make the trek.
He also heaped criticism on Thai government and media for its reporting on the visit, saying Mr Abhisit’s appeal to Unesco is futile.
“I will give some advice that Abhisit should take this issue to the UN or the ICJ and not to Unesco because Unesco does not resolve this issue but they resolve cultural ones,” he said.
The English-language newspaper the Bangkok Post reported on the premier’s activity along the border with the headline, “Hun Sen cancels Surin temple visit” placing Ta Moan temple in Thailand’s north-eastern province of Surin.
The story quoted Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s secretary Chavanond Intarakomalyasut as saying Mr Hun Sen decided not to visit the temple “in Surin province after Thai authorities demanded his military escort not carry weapons.”
“The Cambodian premier said he understood the regulations and did not want to create tension between soldiers from the two countries even though he wanted to travel as a tourist,” the story continued.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed reports that groups of Thais had been heading to the temple to host a “peaceful protest” after learning hearing of a visit by Mr Hun Sen.
However, the visit did not take place and officials stationed at the temple did not grant the would-be protesters permission to enter the area. He said he did not know why Mr Hun Sen did not head up to the hilltop temple.
“As of now, we know there is no visit by Cambodian officials to that area,” he said yesterday afternoon. “I guess by now those people have dispersed and are heading home.”
He added that Thailand welcomed the visit but underscored the need for any such stopover to the temple to observe proper “protocol.”
A Cambodian officer said military officials from Thailand and Cambodia were holding talks at the temple because of the threat of a protest by members of the ultra-nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy.
“The Thai soldiers are trying to stop the yellow shirts who are trying to come in,” said RCAF Lieutenant Yin Yet after walking from the steep base of the temple into the jungle on the Cambodian side, where about 15 soldiers sat on wooden benches.
Another officer said five representatives from Thailand and Cambodia were meeting because PAD protesters were expected.
“The tourists are not allowed [yesterday] because of the meeting,” said Captain Em Phalla. “Because we heard the yellow shirts want to come to the temple and if they come, they come as a group, that is why we close.”
On Sunday, the day before Mr Hun Sen’s predicted visit, Ta Moan Thom temple saw a jump in Thai tourists, according to RCAF officers, with some of the Thai visitors identifying themselves as PAD members.
“On average they come just 100 per day,” Captain San Heab said Sunday of Thai tourists. “I don’t know how many [Sunday] but a lot more.”
Several Thai visitors identified themselves as PAD members on Sunday and stated the land on which the temple sites in Thai territory.
Thai national Jessada Thonkeaw acknowledged that the temple was built by Khmers but said it was not on Cambodian land.
“Its not a Thai temple because this temple was built before Thailand,” he said, adding, “It is Thai land.”
“Mr Hun Sen wants to take our land and he is using soldiers in civilian clothes to come and take our land, meter by meter,” he added.
Lieutenant General Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, brushed aside the claim of Thai ownership.
“Ta Moan Thouch and Ta Moan Thom are Cambodian temples,” he stated. Mr Hun Sen “can go wherever he wants since his land is the Cambodian land.”
(Additional reporting by Frank Radosevich and Eang Mengleng)