Thai nationalists march on contested border temple - Update

Posted : Sat, 19 Sep 2009
Author : DPA

Bangkok - Thousands of Thai ultra-nationalists on Saturday broke through a police barrier to march to an 11th-century Hindu temple on the Cambodian border in a long-running dispute that nearly sparked a war last year. An estimated 4,000 members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) clashed with police and villagers at Phumisarol town who tried to stop them from entering the national park in Sisaket province, about 450 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, state-owned Thai News Agency reported.

Several people were reported injured in the clash.

In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva expressed concern over the incident and urged officials to negotiate with the leaders to end the protest peacefully.

The PAD led anti-government protests last year that culminated in the seizure of Bangkok's two airports and the toppling of the previous administration, led by the People Power Party (PPP).

The movement is staunchly opposed to the return to power of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a coup in September 2006 but was the main political force behind the PPP.

PAD leaders objected to the PPP's decision last year to support Cambodia's bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, claiming the move was motivated by Thaksin's vested business interests in Cambodia.

Despite their protests, the temple ruins were granted heritage status, sparking protests and an incursion into Cambodian territory by some PAD activists at the time.

Their arrests by Cambodian soldiers and Thailand's aggressive response to the incident almost sparked a border war in July last year.

The historical site has been the subject of diplomatic tensions between Thailand and Cambodia for decades.

An ownership dispute over the temple, which is perched on a cliff defining the Thai-Cambodian border, was settled by an International Court ruling in the Hague in the mid-1950s, but the court failed to rule on the ownership of land adjacent to the temple.

Thailand insists that this land is still under dispute and the granting of UNESCO heritage site status was premature.

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