Mon, May 12, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Thai prime minister threatens to sue local newspapers over temple dispute

AFP , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who has a notoriously combative relationship with his country’s press, threatened yesterday to sue two local newspapers.

Speaking on his weekly Talking Samak Style television show, the prime minister took two unnamed papers to task over their reporting of disputes over a temple on the Thai-Cambodia border.

Samak, who is known for his gruff, straight-talking style, recently canceled his twice-weekly press briefings because he said he was worried he would publicly utter “rude words.”

In his latest attack on the media, he said the newspapers had accused him of trading claims over the temple — which is on Cambodian soil but to which Thailand has historically laid claim — for financial gain over oil deals.

“That is absolutely unacceptable,” he told viewers. “Tomorrow my lawyer will certainly have a job to do. The only way out is through the court.”

Samak did not give any details of the offending newspapers, or specifics of the allegations.

Thailand and Cambodia have historically both laid claim to the Preah Vihear temple, an ancient Hindu site perched on a mountaintop on the Thai-Cambodia border. The World Court in 1962 ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia.

The UN culture organization UNESCO last year decided against granting the temple coveted World Heritage status.

Rumors swirled that Thailand had blocked Cambodia’s efforts to have Preah Vihear listed, but Cambodian officials denied this, and Samak has said he will not hamper attempts by Cambodia to try once again to have the site listed.

A former TV chef and self-styled “man of the people”, Samak led the People Power Party (PPP) to an election victory last December and often uses his Sunday television show to complain about the Thai media.

When he announced he would no longer give his press briefings, he said that the public believed he used impolite words.

“So to solve this problem and so that I do not utter such rude words, I must not talk,” he said.

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