Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cambodia wants UN to resolve Thailand border Temple standoff

By Sopheng Cheang (AP)

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia - Cambodia asked the U.N. Security Council and its Southeast Asian neighbors to intervene in resolving a military standoff over disputed border territory around an ancient temple, stepping up its rhetoric against Thailand.

"In the face of this imminent state of war, this a very serious threat to our independence and territorial integrity, we have an obligation to resort to the U.N. Security Council," said Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, using the harshest terms yet in the confrontation.

There was no immediate reaction from the Thai government.

The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near the Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. More than 4,000 troops have been deployed around the temple and in the immediate vicinity since July 15.

The troops are to remain in place, but the two sides nevertheless reiterated their commitment to avoiding an armed conflict as a bilateral meeting in the Thai-Cambodian border town of Aranyaprathet ended without a deal.

Preah Vihear, Cambodia (www.hiwaay.net)

Preah Vihear temple complex, Cambodia

On Tuesday, Cambodia launched a diplomatic offensive. Hor Namhong made his statement during a meeting with several foreign ambassadors, including those from countries that are permanent members of the Security Council.

He said the Cambodian ambassador in New York Monday submitted his country's request for an emergency meeting of the council to find a solution to the problem in accordance with international laws. Cambodia is also seeking regional intervention.

Hor Namhong asked Singapore, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to form a regional "inter-ministerial group ... to help find a peaceful solution to the current crisis and avoid military confrontation."

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said the Cabinet was waiting for a report from Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Banditkul, who is representing Thailand at the Singapore meeting.

"It is a sensitive issue and we are worried about the current standoff. We are waiting to hear from him before making comments," Somchai told reporters.

The Cambodian Foreign Ministry statement said talks failed "because Thailand insisted on using a map drawn unilaterally, thus violating Cambodia's territory."

It said Cambodia was adhering to a map, drawn up in 1908, which was endorsed by the International Court of Justice when it awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in a 1962 ruling.

Thailand's "aggression" also violated the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia drawn up by ASEAN, the statement said.

In a letter to Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo late Monday, Hor Namhong asked that the foreign ministers of Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos be included in a group to resolve the crisis.

"Thai troops with artillery and tanks are building up along the border, constituting a very serious threat not only to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia, but also to peace and stability in the region," he said in the letter seen Tuesday.

The ASEAN foreign ministers are holding their annual meeting in Singapore this week.

Thailand sent troops to the border after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's request to designate the temple a World Heritage Site. And Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

The Thai protesters claim the temple's new status will undermine their country's claim to the disputed patch of land.

Despite the deadlock, the atmosphere appeared relaxed Tuesday between the two forces at the site.

Opposing soldiers mingled casually. Some were lying in hammocks, while others sat on rocks swinging their legs with their weapons on their laps or on the ground near them.

"Nothing has changed. We have received orders to continue maintaining patience" after the talks failed, Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo said Tuesday.

"We're disappointed that this has happened," U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli told reporters after the Tuesday meeting with Hor Namhong.

"The movement of troops is something that is always worrisome. When you have that many young men with that many weapons in that close proximity, there's always a danger of violence," he said, calling on both countries to try to resolve their standoff "in a peaceful, fair manner."
Associated Press writers Ambika Ahuja and Sutin Wannabovorn in Bangkok, Thailand, Ker Munthit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and writer Sumeth Panpetch along the Thai-Cambodian border contributed to this report.

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