TA MOAN THOM TEMPLE: Hundreds of Thais visited Ta Moan Thom temple on the border of Oddar Meanchey province yesterday ahead of a visit today from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, with one Thai national saying a peaceful protest will greet the premier.
“We’re going to stay over night; we’re going to wait for him,” said Thai national Charoen Mookachonpa yesterday at the temple, referring to the premier.
Mr Mookachonpa added that he and others planned to protest peacefully with as many as 500 people expected to spend the night on the Thai side of the border.
“We think we are polite enough to protest peacefully,” he said.
Mr Mookachonpa was in one of the last of a line of Thai groups of about 20 people to go to the 13th century temple in Banteay Ampil district.
“We want the word to realize that the Thai people insist this belongs to the Thai kingdom,” he said of the temple. “At the same time we are expecting our Thai government to action if Hun Sen enters this area without legal permission.”
Several visitors identified themselves as members of the ultra nationalist People Alliance for Democracy, although Mr Mookachonpa would only say that he came as a Thai citizen.
Thai national Jessada Thonkeaw acknowledged that the temple was built by Khmers but said it is on Thai land.
“Its not a Thai temple because this temple was built before Thailand,” he said. “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.
“[The temple] is on our map so it should be Thai,” said Kwanruk Navaboonniyom, another Thai national.
Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense confirmed by telephone that the Cambodian premier is planning to visit the temple today as did Nak Vong, Region 4 deputy chief of staff.
“I know the premier will spend two days in Oddar Meanchey province,” said Mr Vong.
Mr Socheat brushed aside the claim of Thai ownership of the temple.
“Ta Moan Thouch and Ta Moan Thom are Cambodian temples,” Mr Socheat said. “[Mr Hun Sen] can go wherever he wants since his land is the Cambodian land.”
At the temple yesterday two reporters were told to move back from the side of the structure closest to Thailand to let Thai tourists through. Both Cambodian and Thai soldiers were present at the temple, but the black clad Thai soldiers unlike their Cambodian counterparts carried weapons.
RCAF Captain Sam Heab said tourists are allowed at the temple as are soldiers, but only if they are without their weapons, which Mr Socheat also said.
“That is Khmer territory, and then later on we agreed that area had to be settled by the border committee and no-one can climb up there with arms,” said Mr Heab. “If Thais climb up there with arms they break the agreement.”
Told that Thai soldiers have their guns with them on the temple Mr Heab said: “And that’s why I said the Thais are invading.”
Thailand has recently boosted its troop levels at the temple, Mr Heab said, even sending soldiers to a nearby waterfall that is in Cambodian territory.
Like other soldiers, he said he had noticed a jump in Thai tourists yesterday. There were no Cambodian tourists seen by reporters.
“On average they [Thai tourists] just come a hundred per day,” he said. “I don’t know how many today, but a lot more.”
Panitan Wattanayagorn, Thai government spokesman said yesterday via telephone that Cambodia had complied with all agreements on how officials were supposed to enter into disputed areas, which included conditions on entering unarmed and under logistical support from Thai authorities.
“The fact they comply with our agreement shows they admit the area is disputed,” he said.
Ahead of Mr Hun Sen’s visit to Ta Moan Thom temple today, Mr Panitan said Mr Hun Sen would be welcomed to the area as long as he came without armed security.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, again reiterated that Mr Hun Sen’s visit to Ta Moan Thom temple area would take place on Cambodian soil and would, therefore, not take place on the terms and conditions of Thailand.
“Ta Moan belongs to Cambodia according to the map used by the International Court of Justice,” said Mr Siphan.
On Friday, Thailand said it would be sending officials to meet Mr Hun Sen if he entered into disputed border areas.
The comments resulted in the Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry releasing a statement that said: “Even if Thailand did oppose such a visit, it would be pointless and nonsense.”
“It is very surprising and beyond comprehension that Thailand would consider sending a high-level official to welcome Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” the statement continued.
(Additional reporting by Simon Marks)