A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 19 July 2008

Worried Thai hands leaving Cambodia

Workers abandon construction site


SI SA KET : About 300 Thai construction hands working for Ch Karnchang Plc returned from Cambodia yesterday, fearing the already tense situation would deteriorate into violence and their safety would be compromised over the Preah Vihear temple conflict.

The group abandoned the construction site of a national road project in Oddar Meancheay province and arrived at the Chong Sa-ngam border checkpoint in Si Sa Ket's Phu Sing district in the morning. They are worried over their security as the protest against the listing of the ancient Hindu temple as a World Heritage site shows no sign of ending, said immigration police captain Supap Srisuk.

Cambodians who work in Thailand have also begun to return to their country. The returning Thai workers were hired last year to build a 167-km-long road linking Chong Sa-ngam, Anlong Veng and Siem Reap under a Thai-Cambodian joint venture.

The Thai government, which is financing the project with a 229-million-baht investment, believes the route would promote tourism when completed next year, providing the shortest journey from Thailand to the world-renowned Angkor Wat.

However, the ongoing protest is keeping away tourists from the region as many tour groups have cancelled trips to Cambodia because of the growing danger.

Nikom Maksik, a car rent service operator in Si Sa Ket, said his business has begun to suffer as the number of customers has dropped. A serious conflict between Thailand and Cambodia also erupted back in 2003.

An alleged comment by a Thai actress that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand caused a violent riot in Phnom Penh, including the torching of the Thai embassy, although she strongly denied saying so.

Three Thai protesters who were arrested in Cambodia for illegally entering the Preah Vihear temple earlier in the week, have filed a charge against Cambodian authorities for detaining them on land they claim "belongs to the Thai people".

The group, consisting of a man, a woman and a monk, lodged the charge with Bueng Malu police in Kantharalak district, asking them to take action against the Cambodian authorities for limiting their freedom.

However, their presence before the police yesterday caused Si Sa Ket police chief Pol Maj-Gen Pinit Faengyong to order an investigation into their protest.

However, one of the protesters, Vicharn Tapsorn, 40, admitted to police that his group climbed over a gate and entered a disputed area claimed by both countries near the temple. Some Cambodian villagers scolded them before they were taken away by Cambodian soldiers. "We just meditated there," Mr Vicharn said, insisting they have the right to do so.

Mr Vicharn, Phra Khampheng Chayathamo and Chanikan Kengnok were released from detention on Tuesday. Their protest irked Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who called them "absurd."

His reaction was strongly criticised by former prime minister and Democrat chief adviser Chuan Leekpai, who said the premier was too pessimistic.

"The premier should carefully consider their reasons. No one wants to risk his life by doing anything wrong," Mr Chuan said.

Meanwhile, Somsak Kosaisuk, a key leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy, blamed the Si Sa Ket governor and police for failing to prevent Thursday's clash between PAD members and their rivals. The PAD members were blocked by some villagers as they were trying to march toward the temple ruins to stage a protest. Two of its members were injured.

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