Saturday, January 29, 2011

Suthep urges caution amid 'troop boost'


Published: 30/01/2011

The government is appealing to yellow shirt protesters to show restraint amid reports that Cambodia is boosting troops at the border.

BORN TO BE WILD: People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader Chamlong Srimuang patrols on a scooter as the PAD rally enters its fifth day at Makkhawan Rangsan bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue to protest the government’s approach to the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. PHOTO: JETJARAS NA RANONG

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday called on People's Alliance for Democracy protesters to tone down their attacks on Cambodia and be mindful of what they say during their rally near Government House.

He was speaking amid unconfirmed news agency reports that the Cambodian Ministry of Defence on Friday sent dozens of tanks and fighting vehicles, missiles and ammunition to the Preah Vihear temple area at the disputed border.

On its website, the Cambodian newspaper Duem Ampil quoted Information Minister Khieu Kanharith as saying that the Cambodian army had ordered its forces to be on a full alert to prevent any Thai attempt to enter Cambodian territory, while the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a recent Thai military exercise at the border was provocative and could set off a war.

It also criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's demand that Cambodia remove its flag from the Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple, saying such a call was "unacceptable and Cambodia firmly rejects such an insulting demand".

The Thai army held a military drill in Nakhon Ratchasima on Thursday seen as an attempt to show its muscle.

Border tensions intensified over the past week after Cambodia put up tablets in the disputed area opposite Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket criticising a Thai "invasion" of the area in 2008.

Phnom Penh later demolished the tablets, but any easing in border tensions looks to have been shortlived.

The Xinhua news agency reported yesterday that Cambodia has boosted troops at the border.

"We have warned Thai troops that if they dare to enter our territory, Cambodia will act in self-defence to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity," said a senior Cambodian officer, who asked not to be named.

In Bangkok the PAD has set up a protest site near Government House to demand the government take stronger action against Cambodia. Mr Suthep yesterday urged the protesters to exercise caution. "I want to tell [Cambodian] Prime Minister Hun Sen that what the protesters say has nothing to do with the government's stance," he said.

Meanwhile, the PAD has knocked back efforts by a Democrat MP jailed in Phnom Penh this month to broker talks with the government to end the Cambodia dispute.

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth yesterday urged the PAD to enter talks with the government.

However, the protest group leaders said they had yet to hear from him formally and in any event doubted the talks would succeed.

PAD spokesman Panthep Phuapongpan insisted Mr Panich had not approached yellow shirt leaders.

Mr Panich, a former vice-minister for foreign affairs, was among seven Thais jailed in Cambodia this month on border trespass charges.

"As far as the key men in the PAD are concerned, he has not contacted us. We see no benefit to our group from any talks anyway," the spokesman said.

"We will agree to talk only if the government accepts our demands."

The PAD, which is camped out on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, is demanding the government abolish the memorandum of understanding signed between Bangkok and Phnom Penh in 2000 on land border demarcation, withdraw Thailand from the World Heritage Committee and clear Cambodian villagers and troops from a disputed area near Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, said the protesters had the right to put up their demands but the government would do what is best for the country. "You know, they can make their demands. They have the right to do so. But as the government, we have to do what is the best for the country," he said.


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