Thai Troops Return to Border Temple

Thai troops returned Saturday to the disputed Ta Moan temple complex, just four days after agreeing to withdraw from border area temples claimed by Cambodia, Oddar Meanchey Provincial Governor Pich Sokkin said Sunday.

After negotiations Tuesday be­tween local commanders, Thai troops agreed to pull back 30 meters from Ta Moan Thom and Ta Moan Touch, the two temples claimed by Cambodia in the three-temple Ta Moan complex.

But about 20 armed Thai troops returned Saturday at 3 pm carrying wood planks and iron bars that they used to reinforce a small fence al­ready surrounding the temples, Pich Sokkin said.

“Thai troops returned [Saturday] to build a strong fence near the temple,” he said by telephone, adding that those 20 troops remain at the temples with an additional 70 Thai soldiers stationed nearby.

About 100 Thai troops first took up positions at the temples July 28, Cambodian officials said, although Thailand maintains that their forces were always stationed at the 13th Century temples, which they also claim as their own.

Defense Minister Tea Banh and RCAF Region 4 commander Chea Morn, both in Phnom Penh, said Sunday that the situation at Ta Moan temple was stable and referred questions to Pich Sokkin.

This new row over Ta Moan could complicate negotiations when Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers meet Aug 18 to discuss a resolution to the four-week-old military standoff at Preah Vihear temple. The foreign ministers last met July 28, agreeing to recommend a mutual troop “redeployment” to their governments.

“It’s possible that Cambodia will raise that issue. Any area can be a problem along the 800-km border,” Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry Press Division Director Chainarong Keratiyutwong said Sunday by telephone from Bangkok.

Nevertheless, the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a Friday statement that it hoped for continued progress on the 18th.

“The second meeting of our Ministers of Foreign Affairs to discuss the situation in the area adjacent to the Temple of Preah Vihear should be able to make good progress, building upon the success of the first ministerial meeting in Siem Reap,” the ministry said.

The standoff at Preah Vihear temple “is just one small part of the overall relations between Thailand and Cambodia,” the statement added.

RCAF Major General Srey Dek said by telephone Sunday that the situation at Preah Vihear temple remains stable, with 450 Thai troops still facing off against an undisclosed number of Cambodian forces.

Already looking beyond the standoff, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday advised Cabinet Minister Sok An to enhance Cambodia’s access to Preah Vihear temple, according to a press release from the Council of Ministers.

Hun Sen requested a fundraising drive on Bayon television to construct a new access road to the cliff-top temple. The current, mostly-dirt road up the mountain is a steep, treacherous series of switchbacks.

The prime minister also asked the Finance and Public Works ministries to cooperate to pave the 80-km road from Anlong Veng to Preah Vihear temple and to replace all steel bridges with concrete bridges, according to the statement.

(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)


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