While Thai and Cambodian officials in Poipet City on Monday pledged to keep bilateral relations amicable ahead of a long-awaited U.N. court ruling on their border dispute near Preah Vihear temple, hundreds of Cambodian soldiers were gathering near the area.
Military officials stationed in Preah Vihear province said the soldiers had come to the border area only to receive gifts during a rare visit from some of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s children, including Hun Manet, a lieutenant general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).
“Today our prime minister’s son, Hun Manet, and his sister, Hun Mana, both came to give out food supplies and money to every RCAF family, including warm jackets to our soldiers because the cold season is coming,” said RCAF General Chea Dara, who commands troops around the temple.
Gen. Dara said the prime minister’s children did not visit the temple itself, a flashpoint for several bouts of deadly fighting with Thailand over the years, but visited the troops at a base nearby. He declined to say exactly how many troops were brought to the event, but said they numbered more than 1,000.
He said conditions along the border were calm, and there was nothing unusual in the bolstering of forces at the base camp area.
“Our border at Preah Vihear temple has no problems even if the Thai side moves or replaces its forces. Our Cambodian soldiers are living as normal,” he said.
Colonel Meas Yoeun, deputy RCAF commander for the province, said the donations included medicine and foodstuffs such as pork, dried fish and vegetables.
Defense Minister Tea Banh said troops were being redeployed in the province but he declined to elaborate and insisted it was nothing unusual.
“We have to replace some troops in some places, so it is nothing new,” he said.
The troop movements come just two weeks before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is scheduled to issue a much-anticipated judgment, on November 11, on who owns a 4.6 square km piece of borderland next to Preah Vihear temple. Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged several straight days of deadly fire there in early 2011.
Thy Dara, who was working with the Jesuit Relief Service of Cambodia in Preah Vihear province, said he had seen hundreds of armed soldiers moving into the area since Friday.
Mr. Dara said he saw more than 25 army trucks packed with soldiers armed with automatic rifles heading in the direction of the border on Friday through Rovieng district. While driving through Kulen district Monday, he saw a few hundred camped out along the road.
“It is a strange thing that we saw the soldiers everywhere,” he said. “I never saw the soldiers there before.”
Thailand and Cambodia withdrew their soldiers from the immediate vicinity of the temple on orders from the ICJ in 2012 but have kept forces deployed nearby.
Over the past few days, both governments have been urging their soldiers to stay calm ahead of next month’s judgment amid fears that it could spark more fighting and pledged to implement any decision the ICJ hands down.
Their foreign ministers led a hastily arranged meeting in Poipet City on Monday.
Gen. Banh, who attended the meeting, said both sides reiterated their commitment to refrain from violence regardless of the ICJ’s verdict.
“We will not allow any confrontation because our side will maintain its non-confrontational stance and the Thai side will do the same thing,” he said. “We will absolutely not allow the two sides to clash with each other and we will maintain good cooperation.”
He declined to elaborate on what measures the two countries were taking to make sure that happened or to comment on what else was discussed at the meeting.
Other officials who attended declined to comment on the substance of the meeting.
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy and Zsombor Peter)