PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia and Thailand will hold more talks on Monday aimed at resolving a smoldering border dispute over a 900-year-old temple, officials said on Thursday after their two leaders spoke on the phone.
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told reporters in Bangkok that his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, had agreed to withdraw a complaint to U.N. Security Council, but Cambodian officials denied this.
Hun Sen only agreed to delay its request for an emergency U.N. meeting on the spat that has sparked fears of a military clash, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.
“We have decided to postpone our complaint to the United Nations Security Council, but that does not mean we withdraw it,” he told Reuters.
“We want to see how far Thailand goes with this process,” he said after this week’s talks in Thailand ended in failure.
In New York, Cambodia’s U.N. Ambassador Sea Kosal sent a letter to Vietnamese Ambassador Le Luong Minh, the president of the U.N. Security Council this month, asking him to postpone a planned emergency council meeting on the dispute “pending the result of the meeting of the two foreign ministers.”
The emergency council session was originally expected to take place next week.
The Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers will hold Monday’s negotiations in the Cambodian tourist town of Siem Reap, home of the famed Angkor Wat temples.
At the heart of the dispute is a 1.8 square mile stretch of scrubland around the Preah Vihear temple on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between the southeast Asian countries.
The temple itself is claimed by both countries but was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.
France and Vietnam had said on Wednesday the United Nations Security Council would hold a special meeting in response to a Cambodian request for it to take up the issue. But France said council members wanted ASEAN to mediate if possible, and for the two sides to continue bilateral negotiations.
Thailand said it had the support of China, Russia, the United States, Vietnam and Indonesia against the need for Security Council intervention.
Even if it avoids stepping into the imbroglio, it is not clear what the U.N. could do other than issue a statement telling Bangkok and Phnom Penh to sort out the kerfuffle.
The chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Thursday there was no need to involve the U.N. in what should be a bilateral matter.
“It should not have to go to the U.N. Security Council,” George Yeo, who is also Singapore’s foreign minister, told reporters at an ASEAN meeting on Thursday.
“We should not let a small issue — that was a non-issue in the past — become a big issue.”
Politics has played a key role in fuelling the fracas on both sides of the border.
Nationalism frequently rears its head in Cambodia, especially around election time, and there is a general election in the country on Sunday.
But analysts say domestic Thai politics are mainly to blame for the eruption of the dispute, which stems from Cambodia’s successful bid to have the ruins listed as a World Heritage site, a source of pride for Cambodia but an outrage for many Thais.
Bangkok’s initial support for the heritage listing was seized on by anti-government groups who whipped up a nationalist fervor in their attempt to unseat the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. His foreign minister resigned over the issue.
Additional reporting by Sukree Sukplang from Khao Pra Viharn, Nopporn Wong-Anan in Bangkok and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Alan Raybould and Alex Richardson