Preah Vihear protest called off

SI SA KET : Members of a citizens group calling for the return of Preah Vihear temple to Thailand yesterday ended their rally in Kantharalak district after residents set up a rival stage voicing their opposition to the group's activities.

Residents of Sok KhamPomvillage burn aneffigy ofPhan Kingsang,a leader of theDhammaYatra group, in front of Sok KhamPomtemple in Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district yesterday.Theyasked DhammaYatra to give up its campaign demanding the return of Preah Vihear temple from Cambodia and to leave the area. SERMPONG THONGSAMRIT

More than 50 residents in Sok Kham Pom village in tambon Phu Pha Mok set up a stage 500m away from the Dhamma Yatra group's stage, demanding the group halt their campaign and leave the area.

The Dhamma Yatra group, led by Saman Sri-ngam and Phan Kingsang, set up a stage in the village on Saturday and used it to deliver speeches demanding the return of Preah Vihear.

Residents opposing Dhamma Yatra burned an effigy of Mr Phan, claiming the group was tarnishing the reputation of their village.

The ICJ awarded ownership of the temple to Cambodia in 1962. The land surrounding it has since been disputed by the two countries, and Cambodia has taken the matter to the court again. The ICJ is expected to issue its ruling later this year after oral presentations by Thailand and Cambodia in April.

Thong Chanhom, 68, a Sok Kham Pom villager who took part in the protest against Dhamma Yatra, said villagers were afraid the group's activities could inflame tensions along the border.

They worry it could reignite skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian border troops. The resumption of hostilities could put the lives of residents in jeopardy, they said.

Skirmishes between troops along the Thai-Cambodian border took place near the village between 2009 and early 2011, causing dozens of casualties, including the deaths of several residents.

"We don't want our children to have to face death again. We want [the members of the Dhamma Yatra group] to understand us," Mr Thong said.

Kampee Pilai, 58, another Sok Kham Pom villager, said the Dhamma Yatra's actions will aggravate border problems and make it harder for residents to live peacefully.

Mr Kampee said he understood Dhamma Yatra's stance but could not let them continue their activities, which he said could lead to clashes between the villagers and the group's members.

Mr Saman, who set up the Dhamma Yatra group in 2009 to safeguard Thai territory, said he led his members to enter the border area because he wanted to educate residents about the Dhamma Yatra fight for the return of the temple.

"We have to apologise to the villagers for our unexpected visit. We are ready to end our activities and demolish the stage," Mr Saman said.

Mr Saman said the group insists the government must not accept the ICJ's pending ruling on Preah Vihear.

Chaiwat Sinsuwong, core leader of the Thai Patriots Network, said he will file a Criminal Court case against the Foreign Ministry today for disclosing false and misleading information on the temple to the public.

Mr Chaiwat said he and his supporters will rally at the Supreme Court on Jan 21 to submit a list of names of those who oppose accepting the ICJ's authority to rule on the disputed 4.6 sq km area around Preah Vihear temple.

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Writer: Sermpong Thongsamrit