Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thais rally over Cambodia border dispute

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators accused the Thai government Wednesday of yielding a disputed border region with an ancient temple to Cambodia, the latest trouble for the embattled prime minister who has been facing daily protests calling for his resignation.
Led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, about 5,000 people gathered in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and accused the minister, Noppadon Pattama, of giving into the Cambodians in exchange for business concessions.
The Preah Vihear temple, dating back to the 11th century, has been the subject of a boundary dispute since the 1950s. The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the cliffside temple was within Cambodian territory.
Accusing the government of corruption and abuse of power, demonstrators have been holding sometimes violent protests since May 25 to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his coalition government.
The protesters say Samak is merely acting as a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in September 2006.
The political discord heightened Wednesday after opposition Democrat Party lawmakers lodged a no-confidence motion against Samak and seven other Cabinet members over alleged conflict of interest and mismanagement.
The Preah Vihear temple issue resurfaced as Cambodia was preparing to apply to UNESCO for the temple to be listed as a World Heritage Site, a process that requires the inclusion of a map.
Sondhi Limthongkul, a key leader of the anti-government alliance, alleged that Noppadon gave up some territory near the temple in exchange for his "boss" — Thaksin — getting concessions to develop a casino complex on Cambodia's Koh Kong island.
Noppadon served as Thaksin's lawyer and continues to have close ties with him.
Waving Thai flags, the protesters held up placards reading, "Thailand is not for sale," and "Bandit government sold Thai soil to Cambodia."
Noppadon denied the allegations.
"The minister of foreign affairs deserves flowers instead of brickbats," Noppadon said, adding that not "a single square centimeter" of Thai soil was lost during recent negotiations with Cambodia.
He said Cambodia had drawn up two maps, one of the temple and the other of the adjacent area.
Noppadon said the Cambodians will present only the temple map in their upcoming request to UNESCO. The second map, which includes the disputed boundary, will not be an issue and thus Thailand has not yielded any territory, he said.
Samak's People Power Party won general elections last December. His new Cabinet is packed with Thaksin's allies and relatives, and critics say rehabilitating the former leader is among the new government's top priorities.
A court disbanded Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party last year and banned him from public office until 2012.

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