The Royal Thai Air Force aircraft are ready and standby to fly out Thai nationals living in Cambodia if tensions flare over the disputed Thai-Cambodian border at the ancient Preah Vihear temple, Thai Air Chief Chalit Phukbhasuk said Thursday.
“If the situation worsens, the Air Force can assist on a 24- hour basis and can lift out Thai nationals to repatriate them within one hour. Officials are now well prepared for the operation,
“ Chalit was quoted by the state-run Thailand News Agency (TNA) as saying. He said concerned Thai security officials — including Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej who also serves as defense minister, military commanders, the supreme commander and the permanent secretary for defense — have conducted an ongoing discussion on ways to defuse the tensions.
He said Thais should refrain from intruding into the disputed area because it is dangerous. ACM Chalit’s remarks were made following reports that both Thailand and Cambodia had reinforced their troops at and near the competing claims to the approaches to the historic Preah Vihear temple, listed by UNESCO earlier this month as a World Heritage Site. Both countries historically laid claim to the 11th century temple, which now sits on Cambodian soil following the action of the International Court of Justice which awarded the ancient temple to Cambodia in 1962. However, the temple can practicably only be accessed from Thailand.
However, the exact demarcation of the border around the ruins remains in contention. The security situation around the temple deteriorated after three Thais, including a Buddhist monk, were briefly detained by Cambodian soldiers after surreptitiously crossing into the disputed border area on Tuesday.
The trio were released the same day but refused to leave the 4.6 square kilometer disputed area adjoining the temple complex. Thailand first issued a warning that travel to the vicinity of the temple be avoided, but later closed off access altogether within 10 kilometers of the temple.
July 17, 2008