Cambodia’s prime minister issued an ultimatum to Thailand to withdraw troops from a disputed border area today or face a “life-and-death battle zone”.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s warning came amid rising tensions over a stretch of border near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which has been a source of dispute between the two countries for decades.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said he had ordered the army to “take care of the situation so there is no violence”.
“We do not object to redeployment so there is no confrontation,” Mr Somchai told reporters as he headed into today’s weekly Cabinet meeting. However, he added that he was not aware of Mr Hun Sen’s deadline, and it was unclear whether any Thai troop withdrawal would be completed ahead of the deadline.
A Cambodian army official later said Thai troops have retreated from the disputed border and eased tension ahead of the deadline.
A Cambodian army commander, Yim Pin, said that all Thai troops had retreated from a contested area and were about a mile from the disputed area.
Yim Pin said by telephone: “The tense situation has now eased.”
Hun Sen had accused Thai troops of advancing on a border area called Eagle Field near the temple in an attempt to occupy Cambodian land.
“They must withdraw,” Mr Hun Sen said. “I have set the timeline for them to withdraw by 12 o’clock.” Noon in Cambodia is 6am in Ireland.
“At any cost, we will not allow Thai troops to invade this area. I would like to be clear about this,” Mr Hun Sen said, adding that he had ordered Cambodia’s army chiefs to “take full responsibility over this area. It is a life-and-death battle zone”.
Both countries have long claimed Preah Vihear, but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962. However, sovereignty over some of the land around the temple has not been clearly resolved.
Tensions flared July 15 after UNESCO, the UN agency, approved Cambodia’s bid to have the Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage Site. Both sides deployed troops to the border.
A brief gunfight broke out between the two sides early this month, with one Cambodian and two Thai soldiers wounded. Both sides claimed the other fired first and blamed each other for being on the wrong side of the border. Three days later, two Thai soldiers lost legs when they stepped on land mines in the area.
Mr Hun Sen met yesterday with Thai foreign minister Sompong Amornwiwat, but the meeting appeared to end without a resolution.
He said today: “We told them that if they do not stop (trespassing), armed clashes will break out.”