Several RCAF infantry commanders discussed the alleged loss of a temple in Banteay Meanchey province to an encroaching Thai border at their weekly meeting Monday.
“We have lost Sdok Kok Thom temple to Thailand since Cambodian refugees were repatriated after the Paris Peace Accords of 1991,” said an RCAF commander who asked for anonymity.
“Some RCAF commanders blamed resistance forces for losing the temple, because during the fighting they stayed there and did not take care of it,” he added.
Sdok Kok Thom temple is near the former Rithysen refugee camp, which also served as a base for the resistance fighters of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front. In December 1984, Vietnamese soldiers fighting for the Heng Samrin-led government in Phnom Penh drove the KPNLF toward Thailand and, consequently, drove Cambodian refugees over the border into Thai territory.
Former refugees who stayed at Rithysen during the 1980s claim that the temple was located inside Cambodia at the time.
“I am surprised that this temple is now in Thailand. I was a soldier, and I lived there for one decade,” said Sok Khoeun, who now lives in Poipet.
The RCAF commander said he would like a committee to examine and resolve the problem.
“This is a result of the government’s carelessness. If we had taken care of [Sdok Kok Thom] since repatriation, [it] would not be in Thai hands,” he said.
Dien Del, a Funcinpec lawmaker and former KPNLF commander, said Monday he had heard Thais had taken over the temple and were living around the former refugee camp.
“I do not know where the border is, but in the 1980s this temple was under our control and belonged to Cambodia. No Thais were in it,” Dien Del said
“It depends on France’s map. Let [the map from the colonial era] decide,” he added.
Co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Monday that the country’s borders with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos remain unclear and delicate.
“It is not easy to resolve the border problems. It will take a long time,” Prince Sirirath said. “We are now Asean members and we will discuss [the borders] as a family if we have any problems.”
Var Kim Hong, chairman of the Joint Border Committee, said Monday that his group should settle the matter, but the committee is at present occupied with staking off the border with Laos.
Last month, Var Kim Hong denied a Bangkok Post report that said the Cambodian government had sent letters to the Thai Foreign Ministry claiming the temple.
The ancient Khmer temple was built in the 10th century and is located in Thailand’s Sa Kaew province near Aranyaprathet. The Thai government is considering spending as much as $1.4 million on renovating Sdok Kok Thom, the Bangkok-based Nation newspaper reported last month.
The Nation reported that the temple was a “30-minute walk from the Cambodian border.”