Officials Reject New Thai Protest over Preah Vihear Temple

Government officials denied claims on April 11 by Thailand that Cambodian troops have massed on the Thai border with Thailand near Preah Vihear temple. On April 10, Cam­bo­­­­dia’s ambassador to Bang­kok was reportedly summoned by the Thai Foreign Ministry to receive an official protest letter at the alleged troop deployment.

“Cambodia strongly denies that there has been any deployment of army and police in the area though there may be security guards protecting Preah Vihear temple and tourists,” Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith said at a news conference on April 11 in Phnom Penh.

Thai newspapers The Nation and The Bangkok Post reported Friday that Cambodian Ambas­sador Ung Sean had been summoned to the ministry and told that the supposed troop build up violated a 2000 agreement not to modify a 4.6-square-kilometer disputed zone near the temple.

“This time we summoned the Cambodian ambassador to protest against them sending in troops and police and clearing landmines in the overlapping area in [Thailand’s] Si Sa Ket province,” the Thai Foreign Ministry’s treaties and legal affairs department chief Virachai Plasai was quoted as saying in The Bangkok Post.

At Friday’s press conference, Var Kim Hong, Cambodia’s senior government advisor on border issues, said the Preah Vihear border had been in place since the colonial era.

Thailand’s protest to the ambassador is the latest flare-up in longstanding dispute over the temple and surrounding territory, which has intensified since Cambodia sought to have the temple listed as a UN World Heritage Site last year.

The Thai Defense Ministry in Jan­u­ary retracted public threats of diplomatic repercussions if Cambo­dia persisted in its bid to list the temple at a world heritage site.

Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh said April 11 that no soldiers had massed near the temple.

“We didn’t send any troops,” he said. “They are at their workplaces, studying and tending to order within the country,” he said. “Since we have peace, there is no need for us to deploy troops.”

The Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh referred questions to the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, which did not respond to requests for comment.

In an article published last month in the Thai newspaper Matichon, the Thai government said the boundary demarcations around the temple were incomplete and that Thailand claimed lands around Preah Vihear temple.

“What worries Thailand is not the title over the temple but rather the fact that zonings, stipulated in the documents submitted by Cambodia to Unesco…include areas in the vicinity of the temple which Thai­land considers to be Thai territory,” according to a translation.

Thailand respects a 1962 judgement by the International Court of Justice declaring that the temple is Cambodian, the statement said.

Belgian political scientist Raoul Marc Jennar, a specialist in the history of Cambodia’s borders, said April 11 the latest dispute was part of an historic tussle over western Cambodia.

“In principle, there ought not to be any disputed zone, given the court order,” he said.

The 1962 decision has become a case study in international law as it was the first time the ICJ had recognized territorial borders originally drawn by a colonial power.

“This question of borders deeply wounded the Thais in their self esteem,” he said, adding that the ICJ ruling relied on a border drawn as a result of a 1907 treaty, which resulted from Thailand’s defeat to the French military several years earlier.

As a result, Thailand had been forced to return the provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Ban­teay Meanchey, he said, adding that part of the Thai political class has never truly accepted the ICJ ruling.

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