Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23, 2009; Thai Deputy Prime Minister to Visit Cambodia

BANGKOK, June 23 - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is sending his right-hand man to Cambodia in a bid to calm rising tensions over an ancient temple claimed by both countries on their disputed border.

The Saturday visit by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Taugsuban will follow Thailand's latest challenge of a U.N. decision to make the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple a world heritage site under the sole jurisdiction of Cambodia.

"I will explain to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that we have problems with UNESCO, not with Cambodia," Suthep told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the U.N. culture body.

Thailand wants joint development and supervision of the Hindu temple perched on an escarpment that forms a natural border between the Southeast Asian neighbours and could one day be a lucrative tourist site.

"From my personal acquaintance with him, Hun Sen does not want Cambodia and Thailand to have trouble with each other," Suthep said.

Cambodian Foreign Minister told reporters at the weekend that his country was ready to fend off any attacks from Thailand "either militarily, diplomatically or through legal action at the international court".

The sabre-rattling comes ahead of this week's UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville, Spain, at which both Cambodia and Thailand have representatives.

In an interview on Monday, Abhisit blamed the border tensions on UNESCO for "trying to register and manage the area when the process of demarcation hasn't been completed".

"Since they have been active in this, we have casualties, we have tensions, and tourists can't go there any more. That defeats the whole purpose of World Heritage, restoring the heritage for local people, for tourists," Abhisit said.

The Thai leader said he and Hun Sen agreed at their meeting this month to resolve the temple row without violence and not let it stand in the way of cooperation on other issues.

Both sides have talked about developing the site as a tourist destination.

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