Cambodian public anger rises over alleged Thai border incursions

Other News Materials 3 August 2008 21:52 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Reports a second sacred temple on the Thai- Cambodian border has been occupied by Thai troops has drawn an angry reaction from the public, Cambodian media reported Sunday.

Ta Moan Thom temple, several hundred kilometres west of Preah Vihear temple in Banteay Meanchey province, has been manned by Thai troops for more than five years, the chairman of the government's border committee, Var Kimhong, told locally broadcast Radio France Internationale (RFI).

However the nation's largest selling newspaper, Rasmei Kampuchea, as well as the French-funded RFI and US-funded Radio Free Asia began running reports of its alleged occupation Sunday.

Kimhong said there was no legal doubt Ta Moan Thom was Cambodian.

Public outrage has grown steadily since areas around Preah Vihear temple, which Cambodia says are sovereign and Thailand says are disputed, were occupied by Thai troops on July 15, days after it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site against Thai wishes.

At a press conference held just before national elections last month, Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to answer a question on whether troop build-ups had also occurred on the Thai border with Banteay Meanchey.

The Cambodian government has tried to dampen the nationalist sentiment sweeping the country and urged the public to allow bilateral diplomacy to work, or, failing that, UN mediation.

Thailand is an important donor and investor in Cambodia but its government is currently under pressure and has been accused of using populism over temples sacred to both sides to prop itself up.

The alleged strategy may be risky: in 2003 an angry mob torched the Thai embassy and several businesses over a false story a Thai actress had claimed the nation's icon, Angkor Wat temple, was Thai - a serious setback for trade and diplomatic relations.

Claims published in the Thai media accusing Cambodia's First Lady Bun Rany, wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen, of leading a black magic ritual when she hosted a Buddhist ceremony attended by more than 1,000 people at Preah Vihear Friday have not helped.

To be accused of sorcery is regarded as a terrible insult by Cambodians, who regularly kill those accused of it, but some Thais still believe Cambodians are expert in the black arts.