Cambodia masks extra temple forces

PREAH VIHEAR Cambodia has been covertly ramping up its security at Preah Vihear ahead of Monday's ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the disputed territory surrounding the temple.

  • Published: 10/11/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

WATCHMAN: A Cambodian soldier stands guard at Preah Vihear. (EPA photo)

The Bangkok Post Sunday travelled to the temple undercover last week and was told by Cambodian military sources that 319 permanent soldiers are stationed at the border, and that the government was prohibited by ICJ orders from increasing troop numbers.

But alongside the regular troops wearing military fatigues are about 1,000 plain-clothes forces armed with AK-47s and classified as ''Temple Security'' who have been recruited over the past three years. Cambodian military sources said they were recruited from the Tourist Police and the Apsara Authority which oversees security at Angkor Wat.

''We cannot increase the military in this area and we are waiting for the ICJ. But the Thais have brought a lot of cars to the border area and have been building military bunkers,'' a Cambodian general stationed on the temple's eastern side told the Bangkok Post Sunday.

''We've responded by bringing in Temple Security. You can see them because they don't wear regular army uniforms. The ICJ does not allow Temple Security to wear regular uniforms _ they are extra to the army.''

So far this year, Temple Security has been increased by 200 staff and includes some women to help with domestic chores, the general said. They also provide intelligence on what is happening on the Thai side.

The general conceded the Cambodian army ''isn't as modern'' as its Thai counterpart but added: ''If the Thais decide to fight after the verdict, the Cambodian soldiers will arrange to fight back.''

Hok Sim, from Cambodia's Military Artillery at Preah Vihear, says they have witnessed a build-up of the Thai military presence at two buildings built by Khmer Rouge butcher Ta Mok which are now under Thai control.

''This week I've seen a lot more soldiers coming on the Thai side of the border,'' he said from his hilltop surveillance point. ''The Thai police also came to the border and they have been building more bunkers on their side.''

Wong Reem, vice-president of Cambodian Police Committee at Preah Vihear, said the government and military had to organise protection of the area ahead of expected protests from the Thai side if the ICJ ruling goes against them.

''We are afraid the Thais will attack somehow after the verdict,'' he said. ''We think they will stage violent demonstrations over the temple if they lose.''

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed on Thursday for all armed forces to stay calm as tension mounts before tomorrow's verdict.

The Suranaree Task Force of the Second Army Region said the Thai military was aware Cambodian troops were still there despite the ICJ's ruling in July 2011, for both sides to withdraw troops from a provisional demilitarised zone.

''Cambodian soldiers are at the temple and around it, but they are concealed,'' a task force source said, adding they were disguised as ordinary police and border patrol officers.

He rejected claims the Thai military was building up logistics in the area, but admitted bunkers were being built.

''They are bunkers for civilians not bunkers for soldiers,'' he said. '' [Soldiers] cannot build more bunkers at the posts on the border, they can only fix them.''

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Writer: Justin Heifetz
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