Thai officials said they will greet Prime Minster Hun Sen if he visits a disputed border area at the Ta Moan Thom temple in Oddar Meanchey province this weekend, though Cambodian officials said that such a gesture was “nonsense” as the premier is visiting sovereign Cambodian territory.
Government officials have kept mum on Mr Hun Sen’s scheduled trip to the border this weekend, saying only that his visit would not include any meetings with Thai officials on land that is certainly Cambodian territory.
While the two countries have been engaged in almost 18 months of political and military dispute over undemarcated border areas, the rhetoric escalated on Friday ahead of Mr Hun Sen’s planned first visit to the Preah Vihear temple and other undisclosed border areas.
Thai newspaper the Bangkok Post reported that Thai authorities were well aware of Mr Hun Sen’s planned visit and would “welcome” him if he visited Ta Moan Thom, a Khmer temple situated inside the disputed border area in Oddar Meanchey province.
“Thailand has not opposed the visit by Prime Minister Hun Sen to the border area and the Foreign Ministry will send a high-level official to welcome him,” the Bangkok post quoted Thai deputy spokesman Thani Thongpakdi as saying.
The Bangkok Post also published a rumor that former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra may accompany Mr Hun Sen on his visit, a claim that was firmly denied by the Cambodian government.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn confirmed to The Cambodia Daily that Thailand will send several government officials to welcome Mr Hun Sen.
“If he visits the territories that are in dispute we will send our officials,” Mr Panitan said.
“Since he is visiting our areas we will send our local officials including the governor and the regional army commander to greet him and welcome him,” he said. “As a good neighbor we will welcome him.”
Koy Kuong, spokesman for Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said that Mr Hun Sen did not need any welcome by Thai officials, as he would be inside Cambodian territory.
Asked if Mr Hun Sen would indeed visit the Ta Moan Thom temple, Mr Kuong said the prime minister had the right to visit anywhere he likes inside Cambodian territory.
“Ta Moan Tom temple is located in Cambodia,” he added. “[The Prime Minister] can go everywhere in Cambodia…because he is under Cambodian sovereignty.”
Mr Kuong said that Mr Hun Sen would be accompanied by a group of high-ranking officials, and stressed that no meeting with officials from Thailand are planned or even wanted.
“I wonder why [the Thai spokesman said] they will welcome him [Mr Hun Sen] because we don’t need any foreign people to welcome him,” Mr Kuong said. “This is an absurd statement by the deputy spokesman.”
A statement released by the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry on Friday evening stated: “Even if Thailand did oppose such a visit, it would be pointless and nonsense.”
“It is very surprising and beyond comprehension that Thailand would consider sending a high-level official to welcome Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” the statement continued.
Mr Panitan, however, claimed that the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry in Bangkok had been officially informed about the premier’s visit to the border though he did not give details.
Mr Hun Sen is on a “routine” trip to the border and planned to meet with residents and soldiers located inside Cambodian territory, Mr Kuong said.
He said he did not know what the Prime Minister’s schedule would be and referred questions to the premier’s cabinet.
Lim Leang Se, deputy chief of the premier’s cabinet said he was not aware of the Prime Minister’s schedule movements.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Mr Hun Sen would visit the area around Preah Vihear temple on Saturday. He said no official meeting had been scheduled with Thai officials and any welcoming from Thailand in the disputed area was unnecessary.
“We don’t need to ask anyone if it belongs to Cambodia,” said Mr Siphan in reference to the area around the Ta Moan Thom temple.
Mr Siphan said Mr Hun Sen would visit Siharat Techo Village and inaugurate a new army compound near Preah Vihear temple on Saturday. Mr Siphan also confirmed that Mr Hun Sen would pay a visit to the Ta Moan Thom temple at some point during the weekend.
Brigadier General Yim Pim, who is in charge of Cambodian forces at Veal Entry and Phnom Trap inside the disputed border area near the Preah Vihear temple, said the arrival of the premier had not yet been organized when contacted by telephone late Friday afternoon.
“But the security must be strong,” he said, adding that the situation along the border remained stable ahead of the premier’s expected visit.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)