The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected a demand by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that Cambodia remove a national flag from a pagoda on disputed land near Preah Vihear temple.
In a statement released yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thailand had no grounds to ask Cambodia to remove the flag from the Keo Sikha Kirisvara pagoda because Cambodia had legal proof of its claim over the land’s ownership.
“Such a statement made by the Prime Minister of Thailand in parallel with Thailand’s military exercise at the border with Cambodia is clearly provocative and constitutes a casus belli for future acts of aggression against Cambodia,” the statement said.
“[T]his statement made by the Prime Minster of Thailand is unacceptable and…the Kingdom of Cambodia firmly rejects such an insulting demand,” the statement added.
The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that the Thai military had stepped up its activities—which included flying fighter jets and testing heavy weaponry—near the border this week in order to persuade Cambodia to remove a stone tablet in the area that read “Here is Cambodia.” Cambodia agreed to remove the stone tablet on Wednesday.
Meanwhile officials here said the situation on the border was stable but that the number of soldiers on the Thai side of the border had increased.
This is the first sign of tensions mounting at the border since early December, when soldiers at the border were nearly all withdrawn.
“The situation is not tense, but we are paying more attention,” said Defense Minister Tea Banh yesterday. He added that Cambodia had no comment to make on Thai troop movements, but confirmed that more troops had appeared at the border.
“I have nothing to say about them. It is their internal affairs,” he said, without elaborating.
Mr Banh said that Cambodia would not remove the flag from the pagoda.
On Dec 1 most Thai and Cambodian troops were quietly withdrawn from their positions around the World Heritage-listed temple. That was also the last day that Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvarak, the nearby pagoda in disputed Cambodian-held territory, was visited by the 10 or so Thai soldiers who had hiked there daily since the troop buildup began in July 2008.
Soldiers from the two countries have faced off at the temple since July 2008, when Unesco listed the temple as a World Heritage Site.
In a Dec 6 speech, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia’s problems with Thailand had been “solved.”
Thai officials could not be reached yesterday.
Yesterday’s statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that maps produced between 1905 and 1908 agreed upon by both France – then the colonial power over Cambodia – and Thailand were legitimate ground to fly a national flag on the disputed territory.
The statement also pointed out that a 1962 decision by the International Court of Justice also recognized the legitimacy of the maps, something the Cambodian government has frequently reiterated.
The Bangkok Post reported on Thursday that recent events at the border would be raised by Thailand with the World Heritage Committee.
“Of course, we will have to report problems to the World Heritage Committee to let it know that if it wants to proceed with the management of an area in dispute, tension and serious conflict would follow. This would contravene the objectives of having a World Heritage Site,” said Mr Abhisit, according to the Bangkok Post.