Cambodia is seeking regional intervention in its territorial dispute with Thailand after talks between the two neighbours failed to end a military stand-off around an ancient cliff-side temple.
Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong asked Singapore, chairing the Association of South-east Asian Nations, to form a regional “inter-ministerial group ... to help find a peaceful solution to the current crisis and avoid military confrontation between the two ASEAN members.”
In his letter to Singapore’s foreign minister George Yeo today, Hor Namhong asked that the group comprise the foreign ministers of Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos.
“Thai troops with artillery and tanks are building up along the border, constituting a very serious threat not only to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia, but also to peace and stability in the region,” he said in the letter seen today.
The ASEAN foreign ministers are holding their annual meeting in Singapore this week.
Several thousand Thai and Cambodian troops are to remain along their countries’ shared border after talks yesterday failed to resolve a now eight-day dispute over land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple.
Representatives from both countries nevertheless repeated their commitment to avoiding an armed conflict as the one-day meeting ended in the Thai-Cambodian border town of Aranyaprahet.
“The most important thing is to avoid a confrontation so that there is no violence,” Cambodian defence minister Tea Banh said, adding that “the temperature ... hasn’t been reduced”.
Thai Supreme Commander Boonsrang Niempradit refused to describe the talks as a failure. Still, he insisted troops from both countries would remain near the temple but would “not use any violence or weapons”.
The conflict over territory near Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when Unesco approved Cambodia’s application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.
Thailand sent troops to the border after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej’s government for supporting Cambodia’s request to designate the temple. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.
The Thai protesters claim the temple’s new status will undermine their country’s claim to 1.8 square miles around the temple.
No further meetings are scheduled.
Surachart Bamrungsuk, a security analyst at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of Political Science, said the failure to settle the dispute would only further increase tensions.
“It is a deadlock at this point and that means the relationship between the two countries will go from bad to worse,” Mr Surachart said adding that “the situation is still volatile and if there is a confrontation, it would be difficult to stop since there are political agendas on both sides”.
Based on estimates by commanders and journalists on both sides of the border, more than 4,000 troops have been deployed around the temple and in the immediate vicinity since last Tuesday.
Still, the atmosphere appeared relaxed yesterday, despite the close proximity of the two forces at the site.
Opposing commanders and their troops have tried to defuse tensions, sometimes even sharing meals, snapping photographs and sleeping within easy sight of each other.