Diplomatic efforts have failed to end a week-long military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand over a border dispute that is raising tensions in the region, officials said yesterday.
With more than 500 Thai troops facing off against at least 1,000 Cambodian soldiers over a tiny area of land near an ancient temple, the two sides cannot even agree on whether to seek a mediator or UN help to end the crisis.
Crisis talks among Southeast Asian foreign ministers in Singapore failed to make any headway, diplomats there said, one day after senior Cambodian and Thai defense officials ended eight hours of negotiations with no resolution.
The troops are deployed around a small Buddhist pagoda in about 5km² of disputed territory near an ancient Hindu temple that belongs to Cambodia but has sparked decades of tensions.
Cambodia’s foreign ministry said yesterday that “in order to avoid armed confrontation,” the country would ask for “an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to find a solution to the problem.”
“We need a third party to solve this problem,” Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.
Thailand however does not want foreign mediators involved in the dispute, the head of the armed forces said, General Boonsrang Niumpradit.
“The dispute should be discussed between the two countries,” Boonsrang said, who led the talks with Cambodia on Monday. “Better that than elevating it to ASEAN or the UN.”
However, foreign ministers from ASEAN held an unscheduled lunch meeting on the dispute during their annual talks in Singapore.
“Cambodia wants it resolved through ASEAN but the Thai side wants it resolved bilaterally,” one diplomat said.
When asked if any progress had been made towards a resolution he replied: “Nothing.”
Despite Thai objections to regional involvement, the US ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, told reporters that ASEAN should play a role in ending the dispute.
“We have suggested that the troops should not stay close to each other. I’m not aware of what the solution will be, but it should be done in the ASEAN context,” Mussomeli said.
The World Court ruled in 1962 that the 11th century Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia. But the easiest entrance lies in Thailand, and a section of the surrounding land remains in dispute.
The UN cultural body UNESCO earlier this month granted World Heritage status to the temple perched on a jungle mountaintop, sparking an outcry from nationalist groups in Thailand.
Cambodia maintains that Thai troops are trespassing on its territory, and has sent a letter to the UN to draw attention to what it says is an illegal incursion. Thailand insists the land around the temple is theirs.
The situation boiled over after three Thai protesters were arrested last week for jumping a fence to reach the temple, prompting armed troops to head to the border.