Thailand, Cambodia dig in on border dispute

Cambodia says Thai soldiers retreated Tuesday in response to an ultimatum, but Thailand reports sending reinforcements to the disputed region.

Thai troops reportedly retreated Tuesday from a disputed border region in response to an ultimatum issued by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On Monday, Mr. Hun had warned that Cambodian forces would turn the contested border strip near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple into a "death zone" if Thai troops did not retreat within 24 hours. But analysts argue that the Thai-Cambodian standoff at the site of the ancient Hindu temple will receive less attention from the Thai government than the ongoing political upheaval in Bangkok.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Thai troops retreated from the contested area ahead of a noon deadline set by Sen.

But Reuters reports that more Thai troops were sent to the border region on Tuesday.

According to The Nation, a Thai daily, Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat suggested that a troop withdrawal is impossible and called a meeting to discuss the Cambodian threat.

Cambodia's ultimatum to Thailand came after a meeting Monday in Phnom Penh between Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat and his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, to discuss the border controversy. According to the AP, Cambodia's Foreign Ministry initially proposed more negotiations with Thailand to resolve the matter peacefully.

Given the tone of the encounter between the Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers, the Cambodian ultimatum, issued on Monday, took the Thai authorities by surprise, reports The Nation.

According to Reuters, tensions and troop presence along the contested Thai-Cambodian border have been escalating this month after soldiers on both sides were wounded during clashes on Oct. 3.

The conflict first came to a head in July, when hundreds of Thai and Cambodian troops mobilized at Preah Vihear after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the temple a World Heritage Site for Cambodia. The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time that the border dispute had been stoked to further domestic political goals in both countries. In Thailand, opponents of former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who was ousted in September, accused the government of surrendering sovereignty by ceding the ancient temple to Cambodia.

Now, a sustained opposition campaign against Thailand's ruling party may prevent the border dispute from taking center stage in Bangkok.

"Since late August, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a royalist group that seeks to overhaul democracy in Thailand, has occupied the government's executive offices" and called for its removal, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Last week, the newly elected yet embattled Somchai canceled a planned visit to Cambodia with little notice, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur. He was due to arrive in Phnom Penh on Monday to discuss the border dispute.

According to an analyst interviewed by The Phnom Penh Post, an independent Cambodian newspaper, Thailand's domestic political turmoil will impede a peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the border conflict.

Singapore's foreign ministry has urged Thailand and Cambodia to "resolve the issue through negotiations without resorting to force," reports the BBC.

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