2nd Army chief rejects idea of any troop cuts
Thailand and Cambodia are looking set to reopen their border crossings near the disputed Preah Vihear temple this week after a lengthy closure, an army source says.
The governor of Si Sa Ket and the Cambodian governor of Preah Vihear province have discussed the matter and are expected to reopen the crossings near the ancient Hindu temple and a nearby disputed, 4.6 square kilometre area on Friday, the source said yesterday.
This would be the first time both the Thai and Cambodian crossings have been open simultaneously since July 2008, when the Preah Vihear temple was granted Unesco world heritage status under Cambodian stewardship.
Second Army Region commander Thawatchai Samutsakhon yesterday insisted no troop withdrawals from the disputed area had or would take place.
The outcome of the last meeting of the Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee (GBC) in Pattaya in October was only that both sides would adjust the positioning of their troops in the disputed area to lessen tensions, Lt Gen Thawatchai said.
“Cambodia wants us to reduce troops but we cannot just do so alone [without reciprocal action from Cambodia]. Besides, we’re not confident in the situation,” he said.
The number of Thai troops in the area, which he refused to disclose, would not be changed but they would be moved to another location nearby.
“We’re not going to retreat, especially from Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara [the temple at the foot of the mountain where the disputed Preah Vihear temple is located] where Thai and Cambodian troops are positioned together.”
“Cambodia should also clear [their troops and weapons] from the Preah Vihear temple.”
The 2nd Army commander said he had been told by the Cambodian military during recent talks that Cambodia planned to soon reopen the road leading up to the Preah Vihear temple to tourists.
Thailand reopened the steep Mo E-daeng cliff near the Preah Vihear temple, which is the route leading to the temple on the Thai side of the border, a few weeks ago.
Both sides were trying to ease border tensions in order to boost tourism, Lt Gen Thawatchai said.
Another army source said Thailand and Cambodia maintained about 3,000 troops each in the disputed area.
In a related development, a new visa agreement between Thailand and Cambodia will take effect on Dec 16.
Thai and Cambodian citizens will be able to travel between the two countries without a visa and stay up to 14 days from the date of entry.