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Thailand, Cambodia in new war of words -

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Thailand, Cambodia in new war of words

Karen Percy reported this story on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:35:00

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the fears that the diplomatic tensions between Thailand and Cambodia could
erupt into violence.

The Cambodian Government's agreement to hire the fugitive Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as
an economic advisor sparked the latest row.

Now a Thai man in Cambodia has been arrested and accused of spying on Thaksin's movements and
Thailand is threatening to suspend all aid to its poorer neighbour.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy filed this report from the disputed border region.

KAREN PERCY: When he landed at the border ranger headquarters at Baan Nam Yen in north eastern
Thailand, The Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga was seeking to reassure the thousands of
officers who deal with the nitty gritty of the deteriorating relationship with Thailand's closest
neighbour Cambodia.

He told them they had the support and protection of the Government. He offered them food and
supplies, as a gesture of thanks. He's trying to calm the local villagers as well.

PIRAPAN SALIRATHAVIBHAGA: At this moment there are a lot of news that might frighten people
concerned about their normal living, something like that. So the Prime Minister want me to express
this concern to the people and to make the people confident in the government and the security in
their life.

KAREN PERCY: It's been a tense couple of weeks here spurred by the presence of Thailand's convicted
former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in Cambodia.

Last week Mr Thaksin took up a role as economic advisor. Thailand sought to extradite him but was
rebuffed when Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said the corruption conviction was political - a
shot at Thailand's judicial system.

Despite the deepening rift and deadly incidents between the armies in the past, Justice Minister
Piripan told visiting reporters that there were no immediate threats in the region.

PIRAPAN SALIRATHAVIBHAGA: We usually have in the past, we used to have worse situation than today
and we can solve it.

KAREN PERCY: But how?

PIRAPAN SALIRATHAVIBHAGA: I cannot say.

KAREN PERCY: But his plans and ours - to pay a visit to the troubled area near the Preah Vihear
Temple were rejected by the local military commander.

The temple was built in the 9th century; it is of Hindu origin and sits atop a dramatic escarpment
which straddles Thailand and Cambodia. The temple is on Cambodian soil as recognised by UNSECO's
World Heritage listing last year.

But the land around it measuring about 4.5 square kilometres has been in dispute for decades.

REPORTER: Why does Thailand want that land so badly?

PIRAPAN SALIRATHAVIBHAGA: It is ours.

REPORTER: But it's such a small amount of land to create an international incident over. What's so
important about it that it's not the temple?

PIRAPAN SALIRATHAVIBHAGA: Even if it's only one square inch, it's our land.

KAREN PERCY: Preah Vihear has been the site of numerous violent clashes in recent years and the
local villagers deal with danger on a day-to-day basis.

I'm at the Pummee Saron Wittia (phonetic) primary school which looks like any other Thai school
with a basketball court and a flag pole. But there's a key difference here. In the grounds of the
school, there are about 10 concrete bunkers. With the Cambodian border only about five kilometres
away, the school is preparing for the worst.

"Bunkers have been built across the region to protect the locals in case of an attack" says deputy
village chief Seng Wongthong. "The situation is tense," he tells us.

While they seem glad for the protection, what they really want is an end to the dispute, so that
the border area can flourish. Many of them even support Mr Thaksin.

Nam Chan-Ob lost part of his right leg a decade ago to a landmine when he was foraging for
mushrooms and shoots in the jungle.

"If there is no conflict Thais can visit, foreigners can visit" he says "and they can make money.
Right now no-one is earning an income".

For now the guns are quiet along the restive border. Trade is continuing and life goes on. But the
sides aren't even talking about the issues that divide them and that means hopes for a resolution
are a long way off.

This is Karen Percy in Si Sa Ket province near the Thai-Cambodia border reporting for The World
Today.