In the face of the continuing border dispute with Thailand, officials said Sunday that Prime Minister Hun Sen is preparing to seek third-party intervention now that the two-month military standoff has spread to three border temples.
Cambodia’s renewed push for third-party intervention comes after Thai troops Wednesday took control of another disputed temple on the border of Oddar Meanchey province, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said.
While Thai and Cambodian troops agreed Thursday to pull back from the disputed Ta Krabey temple, he said, this latest incursion prompted Hun Sen on Friday to request a compendium of Thailand’s “aggressive acts” and preparation of a lawsuit against Thailand. Thai and Cambodian troops have already been facing off at the Preah Vihear and Ta Moan temple complexes for several weeks.
According to Phay Siphan, Hun Sen told the Council of Ministers that Cambodia “cannot avoid going to the [International Court of Justice] or the UN Security Council.”
“Thai soldiers keep giving us a hard time at the border…. Our patience has almost worn out,” he added. “It’s just a matter of the prime minister giving the green light.”
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that the government will immediately go to a third party “if the Thais continue to encroach or violate [Cambodian] sovereignty.”
“We are preparing the legal paperwork for different international organizations,” he said by telephone Sunday, though he declined to specify which organizations Cambodia would appeal to.
Cambodia lodged an emergency complaint with the UN Security Council on July 23 after bilateral talks the day before had failed to defuse the standoff at Preah Vihear temple. Thailand in turn demanded that the negotiations continue on the bilateral level.
On July 24, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among others, recommended bilateral talks continue rather than sending the issue to the Security Council, and Cambodia suspended its complaint later that day.
However, bilateral negotiations with Thailand have now been suspended indefinitely since the Thai military scratched talks slated for Aug 29.
Defense Ministry Secretary of State Soeung Kiri said he did not know when negotiations would resume and said he now supported filing a lawsuit against Thailand with the ICJ.
“We must not delay the situation with Thailand. They will step by step send their troops to invade our borders and our sovereignty,” Soeung Kiri said by telephone Sunday.
“We are not afraid of armed confrontation or war with Thailand. But it could affect the villagers who live along the border,” he added.
The Thai government, however, remains determined to see the dispute resolved bilaterally despite political upheaval in Bangkok and the recent resignations of both Thailand’s prime minister and foreign minister.
Thai Foreign Ministry press officer Apirat Sugondhabhirom said both Thailand and Asean still feel “it is premature to escalate this from a bilateral level to a multinational level.”
“We still would like to see the issue resolved peacefully, amicably on a bilateral level,” Apirat said Sunday by telephone from Bangkok.
A commander with the Royal Thai Armed Forces said military heads can still meet with their Cambodian counterparts and continue bilateral negotiations.
“I think they can actually sit down, have meetings during the interim government and make a decision…. The political situation is purely internal,” the commander said by telephone from Bangkok.
Colonel Worapun Krarurum, assistant director of the Thai-Cambodia Border Security Affairs Division for the Royal Thai Armed Forces, said Ta Krabey temple, like Ta Moan temple and the land surrounding Preah Vihear temple, is claimed by Thailand and further meetings of the Thai-Cambodia Joint Border Committee is the best course for finding a resolution.
“Thailand will try to keep this a bilateral issue…. We have many conflict areas that the JBC has to resolve,” she said.
While Worapun said she did not know who ordered the Thai troops to take up positions at Ta Krabey, she added that Thai border police have long patrolled the area.
“Many temples are along the Thai-Cambodia border. We also claim this temple,” she said.
Both countries had agreed in 2000 to keep troops outside disputed border areas, but on Wednesday morning 170 Thai troops entered and surrounded Ta Krabey temple, which Cambodia places in Banteay Ampil district’s Khpos commune, just 9 km east of the disputed Ta Moan complex, said RCAF Region 4 Deputy Commander Nark Vong.
Cambodian border police fired a warning shot into the air and demanded the Thai troops withdraw, though Nark Vong said they refused to leave Ta Krabey until Thursday when 200 Cambodian troops surrounded the temple.
RCAF Region 4 Commander Chea Morn said Sunday that Thai troops remain camped 300 meters north of the temple and 15 Cambodian troops remain stationed 80 meters to its south.
Oddar Meanchey Provincial Governor Pich Sokhin said the situation is stable at Ta Krabey and Ta Moan temples, but he added that an international mediator is needed to resolve the standoff.