Officials in Preah Vihear province reported Monday that Cambodian villagers have left the Thai-Cambodia border site of Preah Vihear Temple and that Cambodian troops were told over the weekend to be on high alert to defend the temple.
But senior government officials in Phnom Penh rejected their claims, saying Cambodia’s relationship with Thailand remains stable.
Preap Tann, Preah Vihear provincial governor, said that over the weekend local authorities told Cambodians living near the temple to leave the site, following the deployment of Thai soldiers on the other side of the border.
“They all have to leave because it’s dangerous to stay to confront gun [barrels],” he said.
Deputy Preah Vihear provincial Governor Long Sovann, however, said Monday that locals left the area because they could no longer do business selling drinks and souvenirs to Thai tourists following the closure of the Thai-Cambodian border.
“Why would they want to stay if there are no tourists?” Long Sovann said.
Pouk Sary, an official in RCAF Division 12, said that over the weekend, senior provincial officials told the division to be ready to defend Cambodia.
“We are not worried because we are immune to war, and fighting is our profession. Our soldiers are in high spirits….We are here to defend the nation,” he said.
Division 12 officials said on condition of anonymity that the Ministry of Defense in Phnom Penh told provincial officials to be on alert.
Cambodian officials closed the Thai border crossing at the Preah Vihear temple on Saturday and officials on Sunday reported a build up of Thai troops on the opposite side of the border.
The Thai News Agency reported Sunday that additional Thai troops were sent to guard the temple.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh said Monday he was unaware of the border closure at Preah Vihear.
“There is no problem but [officials in Preah Vihear] try to say it to make a problem,” Tea Banh said.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith also on Monday disputed the reports from Preah Vihear.
Preap Tann and Preah Vihear provincial police Chief Chea San, who on Sunday reported the amassing of Thai soldiers and the closure of the border, should have spoken with their Thai counterparts before speaking to the press, Khieu Kanharith said, adding that he would push for both officials to be demoted.
“Some stupid guys just want to be in the press,” he said, adding that the relationship between Thailand and Cambodia remains “very good.”
Preap Tann said Monday that Khieu Kanharith’s threats against the pair were “laughable.”
A Thai Embassy official identifying himself only as Nava said he had no official information on the events along the border, but added that relations between the two countries remain good.
Reports may be confusing Thailand’s Cambodian border with its Burmese border, where there definitely is tension, he said.
“In the whole [of Thailand] there are soldiers, the West part, the Eastern part, not only Cambodia,” he said. “Maybe there is some confusion.”
Chea Vannath of the Center for Social Development on Monday said officials in Phnom Penh may be unaware of the tensions along the border, or trying to play them down.
If there is genuine tension in Preah Vihear, the government should not ignore it, Chea Vannath said.
“I hope the central government isn’t deceiving those troops [in Preah Vihear],” she said.
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)