The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
A Thai official on Sunday denied that tensions with Cambodia over contested borderland were on the rise, despite a surprise warning from Prime Minister Hun Sen that Thailand is planning to take military action if the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the territory to Cambodia in an upcoming decision.
On Friday, Mr. Hun Sen said Thailand “will used armed forces” should the ICJ award Cambodia a 4.6-square-km border area next to Preah Vihear temple over which the two countries have fought several brief but deadly battles since 2008. Mr. Hun Sen advised the Cambodian military to be on high alert “for any bad actions that disturb our sovereignty.”
The ICJ is scheduled to hear oral arguments from Thailand and Cambodia in mid-April—ahead of national elections here in July—and is expected to issue a decision later this year.
The Bangkok Post on Sunday reported that the Thai and Cambodian defense ministers were planning to meet for lunch on Tuesday to “cool tensions” over the disputed area ahead of the ICJ’s decision.
But Thai Foreign Affairs spokesman Manasvi Srisodapol said bilateral relations—which have warmed considerably since the election of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2011—were still good.
In any contest over international borders, he said, “there are always groups of people who would express their opinions on certain things…but there’s not tension as we understand right now.”
Mr. Manasvi did confirm the Bangkok Post’s report that the two countries’ defense ministers were scheduled to meet on Tuesday, but not to cool tensions.
“It’s an expression of good relations that we have at all levels with Cambodia,” he said of the meeting.
General Neang Phat, a secretary of state at Cambodia’s Defense Ministry, however, denied reports of a meeting.
“There is no meeting,” he said, before declining to comment further.
Lieutenant General Srey Dek, commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Division 3, stationed in Preah Vihear province, said he knew of no meeting between the defense ministers either, and that the situation was calm on the border.
“The situation along the border is stable,” he said.
Thailand and Cambodia withdrew hundreds of soldiers from around the temple last year, replacing them with armed police.
Analysts have blamed the governments in both Phnom Penh and Bangkok for playing up the border dispute over the years for their domestic audiences during their respective election seasons.
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