Preah Vihear at Center of Tense Border Relations

Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand continued to simmer on Tuesday, as National As­sembly President Prince Noro­dom Rana­riddh urged Thailand to find justice for six Cambodian migrant workers killed there earlier this month, while a senior Pre­ah Vi­hear prov­ince official reported that Thai troops across the border are digging trenches.

Speaking at the Assembly, Prince Ranariddh accused Thai em­ployers of “benefit[ing] from cheap Cambodian laborers, who were employed like animals.”

He also accused Thai military air­craft of violating Cambodian airspace.

Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, called the killing of the six “an act of hostility and inhumanity” during the Assembly session.

He appealed to the Thai government to review the killings and to “pity poor Cambodians who were re­cently freed from war.”

Speaking from Preah Vihear on Tuesday, Deputy provincial Gov­ernor Pall San said Thai troops have been building new military posts behind the Preah Vihear temple following the closure of the Thai-Cambodian border on Friday.

“Thai soldiers are building nine military posts and digging more trenches in each post and are also installing machine guns in them,” he said.

Pouk Sary, an official in RCAF Division 12, said the Thais have withdrawn some of their troops, though their new military posts and machine guns remain.

Long Sovann, deputy provincial governor, said negotiations be­tween Preah Vihear officials and their Thai counterparts have reach­ed a deadlock.

“Most Cambodian residents are asked to leave for their security,” he said. “We must protect our people first so they must not stay in a dangerous place.”

Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh on Monday accused officials in Preah Vihear of trying to create a problem. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith on Monday also disputed the reports coming from the prov­ince, describing the relationship between the two countries as “very good.”

A Thai government official in Phnom Penh played down the border situation on Tuesday.

“The [Thai] soldiers opposite the temple are now very relaxed. There is no conflict in the area at all,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The situation is not linked to the deaths of the migrant workers, the official said.

The additional Thai troops along the border are paramilitaries rather than regular soldiers, deployed to prevent weapon smuggling and to guard Thai villages, the official said.

“The forces on both sides are friends, and they talk daily,” the official said.

The official added that Thai and Cam­bodian defense officials will have an annual meeting in Phnom Penh on June 10, when the border will likely be discussed.

“We think the issue will go away in a friendly way,” the Thai official said.

The Thai newspaper The Nation on Tuesday reported that Thai provincial authorities have “warn­ed the central government about deteriorating border relations” with Cambodia.

The newspaper also cited Boon­mi Buatan, a border trade official, as saying he believed Cambo­dia closed the border “to force Thai authorities into talks over the en­croachment of Cambo­dian vendors who have set up stalls on a Thai pathway” leading to the temple.

(Additional reporting by William Shaw)

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