Bangkok - The United Nations Security Council will decide this week whether or not it will hold an emergency session to discuss an escalating border spat between Thailand and Cambodia over an ancient Hindu temple, a senior Thai diplomat confirmed Wednesday.
On Monday Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, claiming he feared an "imminent state of war," appealed to the 15-member UN Security Council to intervene in the Thai-Cambodian dispute over conflicting claims to territory adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple, perched on a cliff that partly defines the two neighbouring countries' common border.
Thailand has informed the UN of its preference to resolve the dispute through bilateral talks, Thailand's Ambassador to the UN Don Pramudwinai confirmed in an interview with the state-run Thai News Agency (TNA).
The UN will decide on whether to hold an emergency session over the border row on Thursday, said Don. "The council will call a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) and we will see to it whether or not the council will hold an emergency session upon Cambodia's request," he told the TNA.
Cambodian Defence Minister Teah Banh and Thai Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niempradit met at the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet on Monday in an attempt to defuse the temple dispute bilaterally but failed to find a solution to the legal obstacles involved.
The problem dates back to a map drawn up in 1908 by French cartographers to define the Thai-Cambodian border when Cambodia was still a French colony. Although the French insisted the border should be defined according to the watershed - where the rain water falls in opposite directions - along the Dongrak mountain range, in their map the ancient Preah Vihear, perched on the tip of a 525 metre high cliff that is a steep fall on the Cambodian side and a gradual slope on the Thai one, oddly ended up on the Cambodian side of the watershed.
Thailand's failure to officially object to the questionable map-making led to their losing the temple in 1962 when a dispute over the temple's ownership was settled in the Hague at the International Court of Justice.
The court ruling, while in Cambodia's favour, left the dispute over the actual border line open to further discussion.
Thailand still claims that a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjacent to the temple is still subject to this dispute.
The dispute over Preah Vihear flared up again earlier this month when Cambodia proposed listed the temple compound, minus the disputed 4.6 square kilometres around it, as a World Heritage Site at UNESCO.
The proposal was approved on July 7, despite Thai opposition.
To make matters more complex, the Thai government first backed the Cambodian proposal and then withdrew it once it became highly politicized by government opponents.
Former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama was forced to resign over his handling of the issue.
The politically-charged issue turned into a military confrontation last week when three Thai protestors crossed into the disputed zone and were briefly detained, prompting Thailand to send 50 paramilitary troops in to the zone.
There are an estimated 2,000 troops now facing each other across the border around the temple, situated between Si Sa Khet and Phrea Vihear provinces, in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively, about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.
The border spat comes at a sensitive time for both countries. Cambodia is heading for a general election on Sunday, and Thailand's coalition government is heading for a reshuffle if not an early retirement. (dpa)
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