UN council to take up Thai-Cambodian dispute over territory surrounding ancient temple

The Associated Press , United Nations | Thu, 07/24/2008 3:14 PM | World

With some 4,000 troops massed along the Thai-Cambodian border, United Nations Security Council members say they will try to stop the military standoff from escalating into war.

Diplomats said Wednesday they expect to call a special council session, probably next week, to deal with the latest dispute over land near the ancient temple of Preah Vihear. Cambodia appealed to the U.N. Security Council to intervene, warning that the two sides were at “an imminent state of war.”

The conflict focuses on an area less than 2 square miles (5.2 square kilometers) around the temple, that both nations claim as their own. The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but its listing this month as a UN World Heritage Site stirred tensions anew.

“We are worried by the situation and by the potential tension due to the situation raising around the temple,” French UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said Wednesday.

“Everybody was in favor of discussing the situation. When exactly? We do not yet.”

Ripert said the 15-nation council “should meet as fast as possible” based on Cambodia’s request.

“We are in charge of peace and security,” he said. “So, if we can diffuse the tensions and if we can prevent any development that could be dramatic for the region and for peace and security, we will do it and we think we have to do it.”

Thailand, whose troops killed Cambodian refugees there in 1979, sent troops to the border on July 15 after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s government for supporting Cambodia’s application to UNESCO, the UN agency that designates World Heritage Sites.

There are now 878 sites on the global list, which helps draw attention to efforts to conserve them.

They claim the temple’s new status will undermine Thailand’s claim to land around the temple. Cambodia responded with its own deployment. The carved stone temple and buildings from the first half of the 11th century were built by cliffs overlooking mountains.

As the dispute entered its second week Wednesday, Thailand accused Cambodia of eyeing even more of its land and leaflets appeared in the Cambodian capital calling for a boycott of Thai goods. Cambodian police were investigating the leaflets.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said he had no choice but to appeal to the United Nations after discussions with Thailand on Monday failed to produce a breakthrough in the crisis.

Hor made a similar request to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but the region’s key bloc urged the two countries to continue bilateral negotiations.

In a countermove Wednesday, Thailand’s UN Ambassador Don Pramudwinai, said Cambodia was bringing the quarrel before the Security Council because “the Cambodian target is not only Preah Vihear but the entire common border.”

Don told Bangkok’s Business Radio that Cambodia was trying to force Thailand to accept a French colonial map that favors Cambodia.

Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance.

Pramudwinai also told the Security Council in a letter Monday that “the boundary line claimed by Cambodia has no legal status” from the 1962 ruling, because he said that case dealt only with “sovereignty” — the question of who owns the temple.

Cambodia’s UN Ambassador Sea Kosal wrote the council last Friday that “this Thai military provocation is aimed at creating a de facto ‘overlapping area’ that legally does not exist on Cambodia soil.”

Th two nations have built up about 4,000 troops in the area, with both sides insisting they won’t resort to force. The atmosphere remained calm Wednesday among Cambodian and Thai troops at the hilltop temple, despite the intense diplomatic rhetoric by the respective governments.

Troops from both sides “continued interacting cordially,” said Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo, without elaborating.

The dispute has also shaken Thailand’s domestic political scene. Its national anti-corruption commission has begun investigating the Thai prime minister and other top officials over accusations the government violated Thailand’s constitution by not consulting its parliament before supporting Cambodia’s application.

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