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Cambodia on brink of war with Thailand ខែកក្កដា 23, 2008

Posted by សុភ័ក្ត្រ in News.
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Since last week the two countries have ranged hundreds of troops and artillery against one another.

At the centre of the dispute is the 900-year-old ruined temple of Preah Vihear, spectacularly perched on a frontier hilltop, and 1.8 sq miles of disputed jungle at its base.

In a letter to the UN, the Cambodian premier Hun Sen, said: “Thai behaviour gravely threatens peace and stability in the region.”

He also accused Thailand of “defying all principles of international law”.

On the Thai side of the border children were today performing air-raid drills at school.

If the situation escalates shells will fly overhead from the artillery batteries newly installed in fields down the road.

Preah Vihear is no stranger to conflict. In a strong defensive position it was one of the last places in Cambodia to fall to the genocidal Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and they held out there until a peace deal only 10 years ago.

Besides gorgeously carved stones, the area is also scattered with land mines and bunkers.

Yet Mr Boonmee Buaton, headman of Pulaong village next to the temple, describes harmonious relations between the communities on either side.

“We’re friends, we’re neighbours, we’ve been doing business together for ever,” he said.

Like many other observers, he blames radical Thai nationalists and anti-government protesters with ulterior motives for fermenting the crisis.

“The local people don’t agree with the protesters coming here,” he said. “It’s only going to create a war. After they come here and mess everything up they are going to go home and we have to stay.”

The crisis started last Tuesday when three protesters from Thailand were arrested in disputed territory by Cambodian soldiers.

They were quickly released, but the Thai army began pouring into the area and the deployment was matched by troops from the other side. In their tensest moments they have levelled their weapons at one another.

But the true source of the crisis, analysts say, is the determination of conservative opposition groups to exploit almost any cause to topple the Thai government elected just six months ago.

According to physical geography, Preah Vihear appears to be in Thailand, on Bangkok’s side of the border and with access principally from Thailand.

Yet a 1908 map, drawn up by Cambodia’s French colonialists, showed the area in Cambodia. In 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled that the map was valid.

Thailand reluctantly returned the temple to Cambodia. Yet it continued to occupy 1.8 square miles of adjoining territory that the 1908 map also shows in Cambodia.

Earlier this year, when Thailand supported Cambodia’s application to list Preah Vihear as a UN World Heritage Site, the opposition cried foul.

They accused the government of somehow ceding territory, although the UN said the listing had no territorial implications.

Nevertheless, the foreign minister resigned over the affair and there are plans to impeach the entire cabinet.

Now Thai soldiers have even re-occupied the temple itself, rubbing shoulders there with Cambodian troops, according to a Thai officer of the edge of the zone, which has been closed to civilians.

Incongruously, a group of monks still lives there, receiving alms from both sides every morning, he said.

With the seemingly stronger legal case Cambodia is seeking international intervention, while Thailand prefers to address the matter “bilaterally”.

Negotiations between the Thai army chief and Cambodian defence minister failed to make any progress on Monday.

At an army post of the edge of the exclusion zone, cluttered with radios and camouflage-wrapped log books, a Thai major told TheTelegraph that his soldiers are reluctant to fight. Many of them know their adversaries personally.

“We’re all friends,” he said. “We don’t want to fight each other. It is just up to the governments to decide what the direction will be.”

ប្រភព៖ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/cambodia/2445052/Cambodia-on-brink-of-war-with-Thailand.html

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