Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thailand and Cambodia order troops to be on alert

BANGKOK (AP): Both Thailand and Cambodia ordered their soldiers Thursday to be on alert in case fighting erupts at their disputed border, despite conciliatory remarks by the Thai prime minister.

Thailand last week asked the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, to reconsider its decision to formally list a temple on the border as a World Heritage site under Cambodia's domain. That move irritated Cambodia and the two sides have traded angry words ever since, raising concerns tension may escalate.

Old tensions over the issue were reawakened a year ago when UNESCO approved Cambodia's bid to have the centuries-old Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage Site, more than four decades after the World Court awarded possession of it to Phnom Penh.

Thailand protested the move, claiming that it undermined its claim to a small amount of adjacent land.

Several gunbattles have killed at least seven Thai and Cambodian soldiers since then, and both sides have refused to back away from their positions, each saying it has the rightful claim to the land.

Thailand's commander for the area, Lt. Gen. Viboonsak Neepan, said Thursday that Thai troops are ready "to promptly retaliate" if attacked but said the situation remained stable.

"Apart from the anxiety among troops caused by the talk, rumors and press coverage in the capitals, the situation on the ground has not changed," he said.

On the Cambodian side, Capt. Thim Thuy, who heads the Cambodian army company stationed at the temple, said his troops received orders four days ago to be ready to fight since Thai soldiers reportedly have mobilized troops and heavy weapons to the front line.

"It's very hard to avoid any armed conflict... if the Thai soldiers keep moving in their forces," he said. "We have received an order to be ready for fighting at any time."

Both sides have claimed the other is massing troops but declined to cite numbers.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has sought to reduce the pressure by emphasizing peaceful solutions, saying that officials on the ground have good mutual understanding despite provocative statements made by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"Both countries have to come to an understanding that there is no victory for anyone in a war. There will only be losses on both sides," he told reporters, dismissing strong statements by Hun Sen as matters of "domestic politics."

Abhisit acknowledged, however, that both sides were likely to remain cautious as "everyone fears they will be at a disadvantage, militarily."

Cambodia and Thailand share a 800-kilometer (500-mile) land border, part of which has never been clearly demarcated because each country relies on different maps. (The Associated Press)

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