The tense military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand will be discussed at the UN Security Council this week. Tensions began after UNESCO awarded World Heritage status to the Preah Vihear temple, considered the finest example of ancient Khmer architecture after the Angkor Wat complex, earlier this month.
The disputed Preah Vihear Temple
Thailand and Cambodia both claim the land on which the ancient Hindu temple stands. The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that it belongs to Cambodia. But Thailand offers the easiest access. When Cambodia asked UNESCO to award World Heritage status to the11th century temple decade old tensions flared up again and quickly led to a military standoff at the border.
On Monday both countries failed to find a solution in bi-national talks. The situation was also discussed at the current ASEAN summit in Singapore but couldn't be resolved. ASEAN-General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan believes the two sides should find an amicable solution to the issues between them. ASEAN could only play a role if both sides asked for it.
Military standoof at the border
According to witnesses, at least 500 Thai troops and 1,000 Cambodian soldiers are facing each other across the disputed border. Cambodian sources claim that some 4,000 Thai troops have massed along the frontier. Thailand denies these charges. Nonetheless Cambodia has started to send in more heavy weapons and troops. If fighting does erupt thousands of villagers living in the area would have to be evacuated.
On Wednesday Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej accused his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen of capitalising on nationalist sentiment ahead of Sunday's general election in Cambodia. However in Thailand anti-government groups are using the temple conflict to stoke nationalist fervour and fuel street protests. Groups opposed to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have accused the pro-Thaksin government of selling out Thailand's heritage to support Thaksin’s business interests in Cambodia.
UN to solve crisis
In 2003 similar nationalist fervour was whipped up over Thailand's claims to Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple. It resulted in a night of riots in which Thailand’s embassy and several Thai-owned businesses were burned and looted.
Now it's up to the UN Security Council to broker a solution to the increasingly dangerous conflict at the Thai-Cambodian border.