Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 16, 2008; DISPUTE Cambodia and Thailand

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, a ruling that has rankled Thais ever since.

However, it failed to determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the stunning but remote Hindu ruins, which have been off-limits to tourists for months.

The dispute over this small parcel of land became highly politicized in Thailand in July when protesters trying to overthrow the Bangkok government adopted it as a cause.

Some 2,000 soldiers faced off only yards apart in trenches dug into a hillside that 10 years ago was controlled by remnants of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot's guerrilla army.

In Anlong Veng, the site of Pol Pot's grave and about 100 kms (60 miles) west of the temple, the main road was clogged by hundreds of Cambodians on motorbikes and small tractors laden with chairs, pots and other belongings.

At the temple, three armored vehicles and five trucks arrive loaded with Cambodian troops.

There has been no word on the exchange of 10 Thai prisoners at the temple, whose existence Bangkok continues to deny.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said the group, who were photographed by a reporter under Cambodian guard, would be treated properly and returned to Thailand if Bangkok requested.

Bangkok has urged its citizens to leave Cambodia, mindful of the 2003 torching of its embassy and Thai businesses in Phnom Penh by a nationalist mob incensed by a row over Angkor Wat, another ancient temple.

In 2003, Thai commandos flew into Phnom Penh airport in the middle of the night to help evacuate 600 Thais during the riots.

Security was beefed up outside the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, but there were no crowds outside and it was operating as normal, a Thai official told reporters.

Several big Thai companies have operations in Cambodia and some began evacuating their staff Wednesday, but flights between the neighbors continued as normal.

Thailand's political crisis has damaged consumer confidence and consumption at a time when exports are sluggish due to the global economic slowdown.

A top adviser to Thailand's finance minister said on Wednesday the country risked sinking into recession in the first half of 2009 if the political stalemate did not end soon.

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