July 21, 2008 / 1:24 AM / 11 years ago

ASEAN ministers offer help in Thai-Cambodia dispute

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged Thailand and Cambodia to show “utmost caution and restraint” and offered to help resolve a stand-off between them, the head of the bloc’s secretariat said on Monday.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Bunditkul (L) speaks to an aide during a ministerial retreat at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting in Singapore July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Surin Pitsuan, ASEAN Secretary-General, said Phnom Penh also denied lodging a complaint or seeking intervention from the United Nations Security Council to resolve the dispute over a temple along Cambodia’s border with Thailand.

“The ministers have urged utmost caution and restraint,” Surin told reporters at the start of the annual ASEAN ministerial meeting in Singapore.

“The two sides had expressed a desire to respond to the goodwill, and request and urging of their colleagues. They are hoping that the two sides will find amicable resolution to the situation.”

Surin said the ASEAN foreign ministers were informed on Sunday night by Thailand and Cambodia that there would be a meeting later on Monday near Bangkok to find ways to defuse tension and end the stand-off.

“The ministers also expressed readiness to extend ASEAN facilities in order to help resolve the situation and find resolution,” he said, adding Cambodia clarified it was not seeking any action from the United Nations Security Council.

“It was just informing the U.N. Security Council and was not asking for any involvement or any help at this point.”

Hundreds of Thai and Cambodian troops faced each other at the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple for a seventh day on Monday, a stand-off some fear could turn violent.

The temple, perched on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between the two nations, has been a source of tension since the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, a decision that still angers Thais.

At the heart of the current dispute is a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) area around the temple claimed by both sides.

Thai troops moved into the disputed area last Tuesday after three Thai protesters were detained by Cambodian soldiers as they tried to plant a Thai flag on the temple.

On Monday, The two defence ministers will meet in Thailand to try to end the impasse, which has revived memories of a 2003 spat over another Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat. That dispute saw a nationalist mob setting fire to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

Analysts say domestic politics in Thailand, where the temple is known as Khao Pra Viharn, have played a key role in fueling the border dispute.

Preah Vihear’s listing as a World Heritage site this month triggered a political uproar in Bangkok, where the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) accused the government of selling out Thailand’s history by initially backing the listing.

The PAD, a coalition of activists and royalists, is waging a street campaign against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, whom they accuse of being a proxy of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006.

ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Reporting by Manny Mogato; editing by Jerry Norton

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