Thailand’s military chief on Monday asked Cambodia to withdraw its soldiers from around a second Khmer ruin along their joint border, raising fears of a fresh territorial dispute.
General Boonsrang Niumpradit, head of Thailand’s armed forces, told AFP that he had asked his Border Affairs Department to pass on the message to Cambodian Defence Minster Tea Banh.
“We ask Cambodia to move their soldiers, who are near the Ta Muen Thom temple,” he said. “I have not received the response yet.”
The ruins of Ta Muen Thom, known as Ta Moan Thom in Cambodia, lie 130 kilometres (80 miles) west of the more well-known Preah Vihear temple, where more than 1,000 Thai and Cambodian troops have been stationed since a border dispute erupted last month.
Speaking to AFP in Phnom Penh, Tea Banh said Cambodian soldiers and civilians were usually allowed to enter the Ta Muen Thom ruin for religious ceremonies, but over the weekend Thai soldiers blocked their path.
“They did not allow our troops to go. That’s why the problem happened,” he said. “Now we want the troops to stay wherever they are for a while.”
Tea Banh, confirming the Cambodian troops were, as usual, still stationed nearby, said the two sides were “working on this issue.”
Ta Muen Thom sits on one of many disputed areas along the border. Thai troops have been stationed there since 1998, officials from both countries say, but both sides lay claim to the land on which the Khmer ruin sits.
Boonsrang said a small group of Cambodian soldiers advanced either on Sunday or Monday towards the temple, which sits on the border between northern Cambodia and northeastern Thailand.
He denied that Thailand had increased the number of troops stationed at Ta Muen Thom, and he declined to comment on ownership of the ruin.
“I don’t want to answer other questions, otherwise it will escalate,” he told AFP.
Relations between the neighbours flared up last month after Preah Vihear, which belongs to Cambodia, was awarded world heritage status by the United Nations, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the prised ruin.
On July 15, Cambodia arrested three Thai protesters for illegally crossing the border to try and reach the temple, sparking the deployment of troops from both sides on a tiny patch of disputed land near Preah Vihear.
During talks last week, Cambodia and Thailand both said they were willing to stand down the soldiers, but neither have shown signs of making the first move.
Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday that his side was committed to avoiding the “explosion of gunfire” along the frontier.
“The situation along the border has not yet reached emergency state,” he told reporters.