Tea Banh Predicts Long Standoff

preah vihear temple – Cambodian troops should expect a prolonged standoff with Thai troops at the Preah Vihear mountain pagoda and the contested valley between the two countries, where soldiers from both sides have deployed their forces almost side by side, Min­ister of Defense Tea Banh said during a visit to the temple Thursday.

Leading a 12-car delegation of RCAF top brass that, among others, included Deputy Commander-in-Chief Kun Kim, Tea Banh held a meeting with commanders directing the temple operation, where he related details of his unfruitful meeting earlier this week with Thai military supreme commander Gen­eral Boonsrang Niumpraditt.

He also told the RCAF commanders that the government was no longer calling the 10-day-long Thai incursion an “invasion,” but was now calling it an “encroachment and seizure” of Cambodian territory. The change in terminology regarding Thailand’s military presence in the area was an effort to help Thai­land save face, Tea Banh said.

“We must maintain the situation firmly, and we will prepare for a long-term standoff,” Tea Banh told a large group of officers led by Major General Srey Dek, commander of Intervention Division 12, who is in charge of forces in the area.

“We must be patient, but we must not be careless,” said Tea Banh, who sat crossed-legged during the hourlong meeting held beneath a blue tarpaulin at the RCAF field headquarters at the top of the temple.

“As Khmer children, we must pro­tect this temple. We want a stable situation in order to develop the country and attract tourists,” he said.

Srey Dek informed the defense minister that Thai troops had started digging trenches and have deployed paratroopers in combat helmets. The estimated Thai force strength is 680 at the pagoda—he did not mention the surrounding forest—while there are a total of 1,800 RCAF soldiers and police officers at the temple and pagoda, said Sery Dek, adding that those figures did not include Cambodian forces ensconced in areas around Preah Vihear mountain.

Tea Banh later toured the market at the temple, where the entrance gate with Thailand remains locked and woven with coils of razor wire.

He then continued on to the occupied pagoda where, as a fluent Thai speaker, the minister had an informal and jocular conversation with the Thai commander there. A number of the Cambodian officers in the delegation also struck up jovial conversations with some of the Thai soldiers they appeared to know.

“We will try to avoid shooting, but right now, the situation is still tense,” Tea Banh told reporters.

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