Thai, Cambodian temple talks foundering: Official

July 28th, 2008 - 10:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Siem Reap (Cambodia), July 28 (DPA) Talks have stalled over border tensions around an ancient temple which has seen the deployment of thousands of Thai and Cambodian troops, officials said Monday, adding that the prognosis for a bilateral solution was not good. A senior Cambodian official who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed part of the problem for his side was the inexperience of the newly appointed Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnang.

“Cambodia is not happy. Neither side is happy,” the Cambodian diplomat said. “On the Thai side, the new foreign minister has not enough capacity to talk with the veteran Cambodian Foreign Minister.”

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has held the post for decades. A seasoned diplomat, he is not known for giving ground.

The two sides of six delegates moved into a third phase of talks late Monday, hours after they had been scheduled to end.

Shortly after the Preah Vihear temple was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO this month, Thailand moved troops into what it calls a disputed area that Cambodia maintains is its territory.

The 11th-century temple is sacred to Thais and Cambodians but only easily accessible from Thailand. Cambodia closed the border in June, saying it feared trouble after Thai protests.

Both sides have said they would not back down on the issue, which has voter nationalism running high.

Cambodia held national elections Sunday, returning the current government with an increased majority, but the Thai government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej remains under pressure.

Meanwhile, troops in Preah Vihear, around 300 km from the capital, were increasingly restless and a troop build-up continued.

“I am former Khmer Rouge. I am not used to sitting around. I am used to attacking my enemy,” said Khun Sarath, 57. “I am ready to fight the Thai invader as soon as the government gives the word.”

The Cambodians have said the word will not come and the next step will be mediation at the UN if bilateral talks fail. A total alcohol ban is in force around the temple to curb the enthusiasm of fighters like Sarath.

In 2003, an angry mob torched the Thai embassy and some businesses over a false rumour that a Thai actress had claimed another temple, Angkor Wat, was Thai, and Cambodian officials have said they are determined that such a diplomatic disaster will not be repeated.

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