Suthep to visit Cambodia

BANGKOK - THAI Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is sending his right-hand man to Cambodia in a bid to calm rising tensions over an ancient temple claimed by both countries on their disputed border.

The Saturday visit by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Taugsuban will follow Thailand's latest challenge of a UN decision to make the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple a world heritage site under the sole jurisdiction of Cambodia.

'I will explain to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that we have problems with Unesco, not with Cambodia,' Suthep told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the UN culture body.

Thailand wants joint development and supervision of the Hindu temple perched on an escarpment that forms a natural border between the Southeast Asian neighbours and could one day be a lucrative tourist site.

'From my personal acquaintance with him, Mr Hun Sen does not want Cambodia and Thailand to have trouble with each other,' Mr Suthep said.

Nationalist passions were aroused in both countries last year when the temple, and questions over its ownership, were dragged into domestic politics.

There have been several border skirmishes in recent months. In the most recent flare-up in April, two Thai soldiers died in an exchange of rocket and rifle fire with Cambodian troops.

Thailand's latest questioning of the temple's status has angered Phnom Penh, and both sides have sent more troops to the disputed area around Preah Vihear.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters at the weekend that his country was ready to fend off any attacks from Thailand 'either militarily, diplomatically or through legal action at the international court'.

The sabre-rattling comes ahead of this week's Unesco World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville, Spain, at which both Cambodia and Thailand have representatives. -- REUTERS

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