PM’s Letter to Thais Asserts Pagoda Ownership

Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter Saturday to the Thai prime min­ister claiming that the pagoda where Thai troops are currently stationed near Preah Vihear temple legally belongs to Cambodia.

Hun Sen’s letter came in re­sponse to a Friday letter from Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej claiming that the pagoda is within Thai territory.

Samak claimed in his letter that Cambodia’s deployment of more than 1,000 troops to Preah Vihear temple, in addition to about 200 troops stationed there earlier, had caused the situation to deteriorate.

Moreover, Samak wrote, the “es­tablishment of the Cambodian community, including construction of a temple and houses, and the stationing of the Cambodian military personnel in the area constitute a continued violation of Thai­land’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In his response, Hun Sen said the pagoda is “approximately seven hun­dred meters inside Cam­bodian territory” and cited maps used by the International Court of Justice in its 1962 ruling that Preah Vihear temple belong­ed to Cam­bodia.

“Nonetheless, I have full confidence that our joint efforts will result in a mutually satisfactory solution to [the] current problem,” Hun Sen wrote in his letter, which was distributed to the press.

Defense Minister Tea Banh is set to meet this morning with Su­preme Commander of Royal Thai Armed Forces Boonsrang Nium­pradit in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo pro­vince to re­solve the weeklong military standoff near Preah Vihear temple.

In his letter, Hun Sen instructed Tea Banh “to find an appropriate solution to the present problem.”

Both countries claim sovereignty over land surrounding the temple.

In today’s meeting, Cambodia will seek a return to border relations that existed before July 15, when three Thai protestors jump­ed the locked entrance gate to the temple and hundreds of Thai troops poured into Cambodian-claim­ed soil, said Information Mini­ster and government spokes­man Khieu Kanharith.

“We don’t ask the Thai troops to leave. We ask that everything re­turn to the situation as it was be­fore,” Khieu Kanharith said by telephone Sunday, declining to elaborate.

Thai tourists have been unable to visit Preah Vihear since June 22, when Thai protesters prompted Cambodia authorities to shut the border gate with Thailand.

Boonsrang, who is leading the Thai side at today’s meeting, said last week that there won’t be any confrontation between the two sides, which Khieu Kanharith said bodes well for today’s peace talks.

Khieu Kanharith declined to say Sunday the number of Thai or Cam­bodian troops around Preah Vihear pagoda.

“We are trying to calm down the situation. Building up the troops would create more tension,” he said.

A Defense Ministry official, who requested anonymity, said Cam­bodia will not use force no matter what happens at today’s meeting.

“If they cannot resolve the problem, we will go the legal way, the diplomatic way,” the official said.

Officials at the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Thai ministries of Foreign Affairs and De­fense could not be reached for com­ment Sunday.

An official from the Thai-Cam­bodia Border Affairs Division of the Royal Thai Armed Forces said to­day’s meeting would begin at 10:30 am in Sa Kaeo province’s Indo­china Hotel.

“Both sides claim the area. We have to talk clearly about this,” said the official, who only identified herself only as Colonel Woratun.

Cambodia’s mission in New York on Friday informed the UN Se­curity Council and UN General Assembly of the situation, but Cambodia has yet to request UN assistance, Khieu Kanharith said.

“It is just to draw their attention to the situation, not to draw their intervention. We are trying to solve the is­sue in a peaceful way and in a bilateral way,” he said.

The US Embassy, which sent a representative to Preah Vihear temple Saturday along with the French, Chinese and Vietnamese embass­ies, said it welcomed the statements from both governments of their com­mitment to achieving a peaceful resolution.

Yet the US Embassy still “is concerned about the discord between these two countries. The US urges both sides to exercise restraint and encourages efforts to resolve tensions through bilateral discussions,” spokesman John Johnson said in an e-mail Sunday.

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