By News The Star Online
PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AP) – Cambodia and Thailand escalated their troop buildup Thursday at disputed territory near a historic border temple despite moves to hold talks next week to defuse the flare-up in tensions, a Cambodian general said.
Cambodian Brig Gen. Chea Keo said the Thais now have more than 400 troops near the Preah Vihear temple, up from about 200 the day before, and Cambodia has about 800 troops there, up from 380 the day before.
Cambodia claims the Thai troops have crossed the border into Cambodian territory in renewed tensions over land near Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple, while Thailand maintains it is protecting its own sovereignty.
However, a Thai military source has acknowledged that the troops are in “disputed” territory.
The border in the area around Preah Vihear has never been fully demarcated.
“They have entered (Cambodian territory) with an intention to provoke us, but we are being extremely patient to prevent weapons from firing,” Chea Keo said.
On Wednesday night, Cambodia said it agreed with Thailand to hold talks next Monday aimed at easing tensions early next week.
Thailand did not immediately confirm the plans.
Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the two countries’ prime ministers had a “cordial” phone conversation, and that their defense ministers would meet Monday in Thailand to discuss the flare-up in tensions.
Cambodia’s application for World Heritage Site status for the temple was granted last week, providing new fodder to the long-standing conflict.
Both countries claim 1.8 square miles (4.6 square kilometers) of land around the Preah Vihear temple, and Thai anti-government activists have revived nationalist sentiment over the issue.
The activists and some government officials fear that the temple’s new status will jeopardize their country’s claims to land adjacent to the site.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Sundaravej also agreed that “both sides should do the utmost to prevent anything from happening,” Khieu Kanharith told The Associated Press.
Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia would not “use force unless attacked” and that the “situation was stable.”
Thai army commander Gen. Anupong Paojindasaid likewise said he has ordered his troops to refrain from using force.
“The problem has been there for a long time because there has been no demarcation of the border yet,” Anupong told reporters.
Thai officials have publicly denied that their troops crossed the border, saying the soldiers are in Thai territory to protect its sovereignty.
However, a senior Thai military source who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation acknowledged Wednesday that Thai troops were inside “disputed border territory.”
Thai troops in combat gear and armed with rifles sat in small groups Wednesday in the jungle on Preah Vihear mountain, while Cambodian troops paced only a few yards (meters) away, some of them carrying B-40 rocket launchers.
Cambodian troop reinforcements also were on the road Wednesday.
“I have received an order from our commander to back up our forces over there,” Ouch Borith, an army captain, told The Associated Press at a Cambodian village several miles (kilometers) from the Preah Vihear mountain.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex in northwestern Cambodia.