01/26/2011, 00.00
THAILAND - CAMBODIA
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Preah Vihear: "Yellow Shirts" against the Thai government, weak on border issue

by Weena Kowitwanij
Nationalists and Pad take to the streets, threatening a permanent siege. The protesters call for the withdrawal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia and the release of seven people on trial in Phnom Penh. Provocative billboards and military exercises raise tensions between the two countries.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - At least 5 thousand supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the Thai Patriots Network marched alongside the "yellow shirts" to protest against the government headed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, congesting traffic around the seat of government. At the heart of the confrontation, the border issue between Cambodia and Thailand around the temple of Preah Vihear and the trial of seven Thai nationals, accused by Phnom Penh of "illegal entry". A group of PAD leaders has placed 60 mobile toilets in the area, threatening to organize a permanent garrison until the executive meets the protesters demands.

The "yellow shirts" are asking the government to withdraw the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Cambodia in 2000, indicating the lack of agreement on the borders; withdraw their membership of the Committee for the UNESCO World Heritage Site; expel Cambodians living along boundaries in areas at the centre of the dispute. Meanwhile, criticism of the government is growing, accused of "surrendering its sovereignty" and allowing Phnom Penh to prosecute seven Thai who entered Cambodia illegally December 29, 2010. PAD leader, Sondhi Limthongkul, said that "if Thaksin Shinawatra was the cleverest of premiers, Abhisit Vejjajiva is the biggest liar."

To further inflame the dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, was Phnom Penh’s decisive move last month in the area of Preah Vihear. Taking advantage of the retreat of Thai military, Cambodians raised a billboard with the inscription: "In this point! This is the place where the Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008. " In recent days, the first sign was replaced by a second, simpler and more immediate: "At this point! Here we are in Cambodia. " Abhisit said that the government in Phnom Penh has already removed this second edition, judging it a "positive sign" of collaboration.  

Gen. Thawatchai Samutrasakorn, head of the area, states that "neither Thailand nor Cambodia can lay stones or build houses until the dispute is resolved." Gen. Prawitra Wongsuwan, Thai defense minister, called for calm "so all problems can be solved" and adds: "mutual understanding is most important." Meanwhile Abhisit has authorized a series of military exercises in the area near the temple of Preah Vihear, an anonymous military source, quoted by the Bangkok Post, reports that "military leaders proposed the exercises”.

The border dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh has been ongoing since 1962, when the International Court gave control of the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear ruins to Cambodia. The area where the temple stands is considered Cambodian territory, but is surrounded by steep cliffs covered with jungle that Thailand considers its own. In addition to the morphology of the territory the site is impossible to reach through Cambodia.

After years of negotiations, the dispute was rekindled in 2008 when UNESCO decided to transform the temple into a world heritage site, requiring Bangkok to allow access through its borders. In recent years there have been several clashes between the two armies deployed near the site. The last was in April 2009 and cost the lives of four Thai soldiers.
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