Thai-Cambodian border temple dispute strains ties

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Bangkok, Jul 19 (UNI) A long-standing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia has been re-ignited by Thai domestic politics, straining diplomatic, business and social ties.

Bangkok and Phnom Penh will hold talks early next week in Thailand to find a way to defuse the tension that saw an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Thai and Cambodian troops this week.

The Thai Foreign Ministry handed over a letter from Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to the Cambodian Ambassador here yesterday in response to an earlier written communication from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to Mr Samak on the border dispute.

The Thai Prime Minister denied the Cambodia's charge that Thai troops had crossed over into Cambodian territory. Instead, Cambodian troops were intruding on Thai territory, he countered.

Mr Samak said his government was, however, committed to finding a just and peaceful solution to the standoff.

The dispute centres on the 900-year-old Hindu temple of Preah Vihar near the Thai-Cambodian border which is accessible only from Thai territory. Awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice four decades ago, the temple continues to evoke strong nationalistic passions in both countries.

The dispute has dominated news headlines since anti-government civil society campaigners in Bangkok 'exposed' an agreement between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, endorsing Cambodia's application for world heritage status for the temple.

It forced the Thai Foreign Minister to resign and whipped up nationalistic fervour along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Cambodian authorities last week detained a group of Thai nationals who had crossed over to 'reclaim' the temple. Cambodia has deployed 2,000 troops in the area.

Some 300 Thai workers at a construction site in Cambodia close to the Thai-Cambodian border returned to Thailand yesterday leaving behind all equipment.

Cross-border trade between Thailand and Cambodia has come to a virtual standstill this week, according to the Thai Chamber of Commerce, which has advised Thai tourists to avoid discussing the temple issue with Cambodians.

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