Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July 22, Cambodia seeks U.N. (United Nations) help in temple row with Thailand

SINGAPORE - Southeast Asian foreign ministers nudged Thailand and Cambodia on Tuesday to resolve a stand-off over an ancient temple on their border before fighting. Cambodia appealed to the United Nations late on Monday.

At the heart of the dispute is a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) area around the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which sits on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary and is claimed by both nations. The 900-year-old temple was awarded to Cambodia by an international court in 1962.

"In order to avoid war, the Royal Government of Cambodia has decided to request an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to find a solution to the problem in accordance with international laws," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

With domestic politics fueling the confrontation on both sides, foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations, of which both Cambodia and Thailand are members.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, host for this year's ASEAN ministerial meeting, said both sides "reiterated they were committed to a peaceful resolution of the issue", and that another meeting of their General Border Commission to discuss the issue "would be held in the near future".

But no consensus could be reached for ASEAN to get involved, Yeo said in a statement.

Thailand would prefer to settle the issue bilaterally, a Thai official told reporters after the lunch.

"We still have to have talks with Cambodia, and if it fails and we need help from ASEAN, then we will ask for it," said the official who declined to be identified.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said the informal lunch was "just expressing some views on issues that would affect the region, that would affect ASEAN, that would have some implications on the image and credibility of ASEAN. Many issues were discussed."

War Soldiers and Power Weapons

The military build-up began a week ago when Thai troops moved into the disputed area after three Thai protesters were briefly detained there. Since then, both sides have sent hundreds more soldiers and heavy artillery to the border.

Preah Vihear's listing as a World Heritage site in Cambodia this month triggered a political uproar in Bangkok, where the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) accused the government of selling out Thailand's history by initially backing the listing.

The stand-off has become a key issue in the run-up to Cambodia's general election on Sunday, with ruling party and opposition politicians slamming the "Thai invaders".

But domestic politics in Thailand have played an even bigger role in fueling the dispute.

A coalition of activists and royalists is waging a street campaign against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, whom they accuse of acting as a proxy for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006.

Cambodia had asked ASEAN to form an Inter-Ministerial Group of foreign ministers from Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos to resolve the crisis.

"The proposal found favor with a number of foreign ministers, but there was also a general view that the bilateral process should be allowed to continue, and there was still no consensus for the formation of such a group," Yeo said.

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