Thai troops are now stationed at two more Khmer temples inside Cambodian-claimed territory, about 150 km west of Preah Vihear temple, officials said Sunday.
About 100 armed Thai troops surrounded the two 13th Century temples, Ta Moan Thom and Ta Moan Thouch, in Oddar Meanchey province’s Banteay Ampil district July 28 and have since prevented Cambodian officials from approaching, RCAF Region 4 Commander Chea Morn said by telephone Sunday.
The two temples sit atop the Dangrek mountain range about 200 meters inside Cambodia, according to Cambodian Border Committee President Var Kimhong. A third temple, called Ta Kreal, lies just north of the border inside Thailand.
“Thailand sent their soldiers to our temples on July 28 and 29, where both parties have agreed to not send troops,” Chea Morn said.
Cambodia responded by sending RCAF troops to the temples Saturday, Chea Morn said, but Thai troops prevented them from approaching by forming a shoulder-to-shoulder human wall around the stone structures, which he said are a 6-km hike from the nearest Cambodian road.
“The Thai soldiers did not allow our soldiers to come up to the temple,” Chea Morn said, adding that the situation remained peaceful and that Cambodian troops had been ordered not to use force to solve the problem.
As with the three-week military standoff at Preah Vihear temple, Chea Morn said any resolution to the dispute now lies in the hands of high officials.
Chea Morn said some RCAF troops are now stationed just 10 meters away from the Thai soldiers at the temples, and an additional unspecified number of RCAF forces are camped in the nearby jungle.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thailand is attempting to capitalize on the military standoff at Preah Vihear temple by claiming more disputed frontier areas.
“Since the tension arrived at Preah Vihear temple, the Thai military took the opportunity to occupy illegally on that area,” he said by telephone Sunday.
The Thai troop buildup at Ta Moan temple does not complicate the situation at Preah Vihear temple, where thousands of troops have faced off since July 15, Phay Siphan said, although the Joint Border Commission will now need to convene specially to resolve this newest standoff.
“We don’t flex our muscle against the Thai forces. We encourage our Thai friends to talk,” Phay Siphan said.
Cambodian Border Commission President Var Kimhong said any deployment of troops around the Ta Moan temples violates a 2000 bilateral agreement to refrain from developing areas along the frontier until the border has been fully demarcated.
“Thailand has no right to send troops,” he said by telephone Sunday.
Var Kimhong said two separate French-Siamese commissions drew maps in 1908-1909 and 1919-1920 placing the two Ta Moan temples inside Cambodia.
“We have a clear boundary line in the area, which put two temples in the Cambodian territory and one in the Thai territory,” Var Kimhong said, adding that the Khmer Rouge’s 1975 to 1998 occupation of the area created confusion over land ownership.
Thailand’s claim to the Ta Moan temples is not new. In March, the Thai Foreign Ministry summoned French and Cambodian ambassadors to complain that maps published in France and Cambodia incorrectly depicted the extent of Thai territory around the temples, Thai newspaper The Nation reported.
Colonel Worapun Krarurum, deputy director of the Thai military’s Thai-Cambodia Coordination Office, said Thai troops are often stationed at the Ta Moan temples because, like the territory near Preah Vihear temple, it is an overlapping claims area.
“This is a disputed claims area between Cambodia and Thailand,” she said by telephone from Bangkok. “We believe that the area of [the temples of] Ta Moan belongs to Thailand. And around Preah Vihear temple, each side claims the area.”
Chainarong Keratiyutwong, press director of the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry, said by telephone from Bangkok that he was unaware of the Thai troop presence at the Ta Moan temples.
However, Chainarong said Thai officials took up the issue of “redeploying” troops away from Preah Vihear temple during a special session Friday in Bangkok. The Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers agreed to recommend troop withdrawals to their respective governments at a July 28 meeting in Siem Reap town.
“They probably discussed the whole issue. Now they have to work it out in detail,” he said.
The meeting in Siem Reap town was fruitful, Chainarong said, and a second meeting between foreign ministers will “soon” convene to resolve the military stand off at Preah Vihear temple.
A second Thai casualty at Preah Vihear temple was logged early Sunday morning when a 44-year-old soldier stationed near the temple died at 3 am, apparently of natural causes.
Thai Colonel Worapun Krarurun confirmed the soldier’s death and said it was due to an unspecified “circulation problem.”
On July 15, a Thai soldier lost a leg when he stepped on a landmine in the disputed border area.