Amid mass protests in Bangkok, the Thai military Wednesday canceled bilateral talks over the border dispute near the Preah Vihear temple scheduled for Friday in Siem Reap town, officials said.
Defense Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat said he learned Wednesday morning of the last-minute cancellation of the talks.
As Cambodian officials gathered Wednesday in Siem Reap town to prepare for Friday’s negotiations, Neang Phat said they received an emergency call from the 30-member Thai delegation, which had already arrived in Siem Reap.
The two groups held an immediate meeting at the Century Hotel, and, at the Thai military’s request, agreed to postpone Friday’s meeting because of the protests in Bangkok, Neang Phat said.
“I do not know when the meeting will take place,” he said by telephone Wednesday, as the Associated Press reported that 2,000 police in Bangkok were facing off against thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.
Thai Foreign Ministry press officer Apirat Sugondhabhirom said the military had only informed the Thai government of the canceled negotiations Wednesday, but he downplayed the Bangkok demonstrations as the reason for the delay.
“I don’t think the situation in Bangkok has anything to do with it,” Apirat said by telephone from Bangkok, adding that the Thai military may be unprepared to back down from Preah Vihear temple.
“The military would like some more time and asked for the postponement of the meeting,” Apirat said.
He added, “Personally, I have to say that we are concerned that this might have an impact on the atmosphere. But I still have confidence in the friendship in our two countries.”
A lieutenant colonel in the Royal Thai Armed Forces, who requested anonymity because he spoke without authorization, said the situation in Bangkok “is quite bad.”
Samak fled Tuesday to the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, the lieutenant colonel said, where he is tracking the movements of the protesters from the ultra-nationalist People’s Alliance for Democracy.
The lieutenant colonel added that negotiations over the Preah Vihear temple standoff are not on anyone’s mind at present, but they would eventually resume.
Despite the indefinite delay in bilateral negotiations, senior RCAF officials said the situations at Preah Vihear and the disputed Ta Moan temple complex remained stable Wednesday.
However, there appears to be a Thai military buildup near a pair of Oddar Meanchey province border villages that have recently experienced incursions by Thai troops.
Six Thai military M113 armored personnel carriers arrived nearby earlier this week, along with a truck hauling a 105-mm artillery piece, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said.
“We don’t want to see the movement of military around that area,” Phay Siphan said by telephone Wednesday.
But despite the delay in the talks, Cambodia is pressing forward with plans to develop the Preah Vihear and Ta Moan temples for tourism.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter and Bayon TV and Radio Director Hun Mana attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday at the temple to begin construction on two roads that will wind up the mountain to the cliff-top Preah Vihear temple, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said.
Bayon TV is sponsoring construction of the two 7-meter-wide roads: one will be a widened and re-paved track following the current, extremely steep road, and the other will cut through the forest and up toward the opposite side of the temple, Thong Khon said by telephone.
Bayon TV Deputy General Manager Rith Chetra said the station’s fundraising drive has already collected $480,000 to build the roads, which he said will cost more than $1 million and reach completion in mid-2009.