A team of mixed Thai forces on Thursday cut open a gate leading to Preah Vihear temple that had been locked since fighting be tween Cambodian and Thai soldiers ceased in 2011, according to soldiers and the defense minister, who attempted to play down the act.
Shortly after midday, a team of 19 Thai security forces in SUVs, including paratroopers and others in full black uniforms, pulled up on the northern side of the temple at the foot of stairs leading up to it, according to Chan Darun, a soldier from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Division 3, which guards the country’s central-northern border.
A number of the Thai security forces then climbed the stairs, which were previously used by tourists seeking to enter the temple from the Thai side, and used steel-cutters to open the gate as border police on the other side protested, Mr. Darun said.
“Nineteen Thai forces, including four in black uniform and five paratroopers and other officials in eight Jeeps, went to cut the chain,” he said. “We tried to stop them but they did not listen to our border police stationed near the gate.”
Mr. Darun said that the group quickly made their way down the stairs and fled in their Jeeps.
He said that in a meeting last week between Thai and Cambodian border soldiers, a Thai army commander was demanding that he be allowed to visit the temple via the front gate, but that there was no warning that the chain-breaking would occur.
Lieutenant General Srey Doek, commander of Division 3, has ordered the Thai side to return the locks, according to Mr. Darun.
Lt. Gen. Doek said he was too busy dealing with the issue to comment on Thursday.
Following a ceremony at the military hospital in Phnom Penh on Thursday,
Defense Minister Tea Banh confirmed Mr. Darun’s version of events, but attempted to play down the incident in an area that has been a flash-point between Cambodia and Thailand.
“Don’t take this issue so seriously,” he said. “It is not a problem.”