Monday, November 11, 2013
Thailand braces for any backlash over world court's temple ruling
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre Nov 11 ,2013
Preah Vihear, set atop a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, is among several stretches of the border where sporadic gun and artillery clashes have erupted between Thai and Cambodia troops. Each side has blamed the other for starting the fights, which have caused nationalist outcries in both countries.
The worst battles, in 2011, killed 28 people and damaged a wing of the main temple. After regional diplomatic pressure, both sides withdrew troops from the area in July 2012, replacing them with border patrol units. Cambodia wants the court to rule that Thai troops stay out of the area permanently.
Yingluck has urged Thais to accept the ICJ verdict and said she and Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, a close ally who once offered the fugitive Thaksin asylum, would keep the peace.
That depends on the troops on the ground. Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said security heads in both countries were in close contact, but added his soldiers were ready to respond to any hostile action.
"We are in constant communication with Cambodia to help maintain peace along the border but we are also prepared to back up our troops," Prayuth told reporters.
That sort of rhetoric will not sit well with people living near the border, some in villages that were shelled two years ago.
"I can't sleep at night, I'm afraid of military clashes," said Loon Sornsee, a tapioca farmer who lives 2 km from the temple. "I have to keep reminding myself where the bunker is."
The issue is extremely sensitive in both nations and the judgment coincides with a highly anticipated Thai senate debate on the draft amnesty bill, delayed from Friday because it failed to attract the minimum number of 75 members needed for debate.
The bill would absolve of wrongdoing all leaders, soldiers and protesters involved in political unrest since 2004. Yingluck has vowed not to re-introduce it if rejected by the upper house.
Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon who now lives in Dubai, is both loved and loathed in Thailand, where he won an unprecedented two terms in office.
While still immensely popular among the rural poor, Thaksin has powerful opponents, who used graft scandals and claims that he was undermining the revered monarchy to mobilize the urban middle classes against him. Thaksin denies the accusations.
His close ties with Cambodia also riled opponents and spawned accusations he had failed to defend Thai interests.
Some experts believe outrage in Bangkok is inevitable.
"Protests have evolved into anti-government movements that will be invigorated if Thai territory is lost," said Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University.
(This story has been refiled to fix quote in sixth paragraph to remove double negative)
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)
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