Cambodia deployed 50 riot policemen and 15 police dogs to the temple at Preah Vihear yesterday in anticipation of a protest by an ultra-nationalist Thai movement that is scheduled to take place Saturday near the disputed site, military and law enforcement officials said.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Sucheat said National Police Commissioner Neat Savoeun and RCAF Deputy Commander-in-Chief Chea Dara approved the move to help maintain order around the temple in case the Thai rally boils over into Cambodian territory.
Mr Sucheat said the police force from Phnom Penh is currently stationed at a police training base in the Svay Chrum area, which is near the temple, and that the officers, armed with riot shields and rubber batons, along with the attack dogs, would be a less-lethal means of controlling the situation than the troops dug in at Preah Vihear.
“We don’t want to use our RCAF forces,” he said.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy, a radical Thai political movement better known as the “yellow shirts,” announced last week its members would rally near the 11th-century temple and the adjoining disputed lands, calling upon Thailand to remove the Cambodian troops at the temple and reclaim the entire territory.
Rath Saphea, Preah Vihear province’s information department chief, said Thai counterparts have told him that “thousands” of Thai protesters have gathered about 70 km from the temple.
When reached by telephone yesterday, one vendor selling goods at the hilltop temple who requested anonymity said he has seen between 200 to 300 Cambodian riot police around the temple, its market and in the nearby village of Kor Muoy.
Talk of the weekend protest has alarmed some because the situation echoes that of when three Thai protesters broke through a closed border checkpoint into Cambodia in July 2008, dangerously straining relations between the two nations and sparking the Thai military’s incursion into the dispute territory around the temple.
Cambodian officials said the riot police deployed to the temple should help make sure the same predicament does not reoccur this weekend.
“We don’t want this situation to happen again,” Mr Sucheat said.
“Since [July 2008] until today, we have built up a good relationship and solved many problems together [with Thai authorities], so we don’t want what happened to happen again,” he said.
Thailand has taken similar measures-shipping roughly 200 riot police to the Thai province of Sisaket, which borders Preah Vihear, in order to head off the rally.
According to the English language newspaper The Bangkok Post, Thai officials said their riot police would be employed to ensure order and keep protesters out of the disputed 4.6 square km area. The newspaper reported the scheduled demonstration has worried Thai leaders since they believe the “yellow shirt” protesters could inflame relations with neighboring Cambodia.
Spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kuy Kuong said the deployment did not represent an escalation in the military standoff at the temple. He said the operation was a safety measure to ensure stability at the disputed zone, hence the deployment of police officers and not more military personnel.
“This is just only a preventative measure,” he said.