Military Plans Troop Increase At Preah Vihear

Cambodia will step up its military presence near the disputed Preah Vihear temple border area, RCAF officials said Sunday, just one day after the Foreign Affairs Minister announced that Cambodia’s military was prepared to respond to any aggression from Thailand

Chea Dara, RCAF deputy commander-in-chief and commander of the Preah Vihear operation, said that he led a Cambodian delegation to a meeting on the Thai side of the border Sunday, attended by 20 Cambodian representatives and 25 Thai commanders.

“We told the Thais that we are increasing Cambodian troops to defend the territory and sovereignty of Cambodia, and Thailand must withdraw its troops immediately,” Mr Dara said by telephone after the meeting.

He added that he promised the Thai military representatives that Cambodian troops would not cross into Thailand. “I told my Thai counterpart commanders that [Prime Minister] Hun Sen has said Cambodia will never invade Thailand,” Mr Dara said.

Despite the warning of increased troop numbers at the border, Mr Dara described the meeting Sunday as “good,” but added that no agreements were made between the two parties.

Kamrob Palawatwichai and Chaturont Chaiyakam, representatives of the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, and Thai Ambassador Viraphand Vacharathit could not be reached for comment Sunday.

On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong told a press conference that Cambodia is willing to do whatever it takes to end the ongoing dispute over the border that erupted shortly after Preah Vihear temple was listed as a World Heritage Site last year.

“We are ready for everything,” Mr Namhong said. “If they want to solve this with diplomacy, we are ready with friendship and peace; we are ready with international law; or if they want to solve this through the military, we are also ready.”

The statement was made in response to Thai media reports last week that quoted Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as saying he would ask Unesco to review the listing of Preah Vihear as a world heritage site and consider granting Thailand joint administration of the temple. Unesco serves as the secretariat of the World Heritage Committee.

“We don’t understand if these words were said without thinking, or if they are uneducated, or to incite problems,” Mr Namhong said.

Thai newspapers reported that Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Suwit Khunkitti would present Thailand’s request at a World Heritage Committee meeting scheduled to begin today in the Spanish city of Seville.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that Cabinet Minister Sok An, who is also chairman of Cambodian National Commission for Unesco, had left Cambodia Saturday night to attend the meeting in Spain.

“We have to go there to report what has been done in terms of preservation, conservation and sustainable development at Preah Vihear,” Mr Siphan said.

Thai media have also reported that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban will visit Cambodia this week to clarify Thailand’s position regarding the heritage status of Preah Vihear.

However, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Kuy Kuong said Sunday that he was yet receive official notice of a visit. “I have just heard it on the news,” he said by telephone.

Unesco’s Cambodia country representative, Teruo Jinnai, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

            (Reporting by Phorn Bopha, Eang Mengleng and Bethany Lindsay)

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