Sunday, September 20, 2009

Locals oppose PAD protest at temple

By The Nation
Published on September 19, 2009

Some 300 local residents who live near the Khmer sanctuary of Preah Vihear gathered yesterday at a Buddhist temple to show their disagreement with the planned protest against Cambodia by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

Sao Thong Chai subdistrict chief Weerayut Duangkaew said the local people had urged the PAD not to create trouble for them.

"Yes, we agree with the idea to protect Thai territory. But we can use other ways to express patriotism," he said.

The PAD began to mobilise yellow-shirted protesters to Preah Vihear demanding that the Cambodian community and military move out of the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia.

The PAD would stage the protest today and have threatened to move the Cambodian community out of the area on their own unless the Thai military took action against Cambodia.

Preah Vihear Temple has been closed since last year when the PAD protested Cambodia's proposal to list the archaeological site as a World Heritage site.

Local residents in Sao Thong Chai subdistricts and many other nearby villages encountered difficulties as the ways to their farms were also blocked due to tension in the border area.

Some of them have lost incomes from trading at the site since then.

"We beg for sympathy from the PAD. We have been suffering the consequences of their protests for more than a year," Weerayut said.

Local residents clashed with PAD protesters once in July last year when the group rallied at the site. The clash injured many villagers and protesters.

It is not only the local residents who have got into trouble due to the PAD protests. The chief of Phra Viharn National Park, Suwan Wattanapitakphong, who oversees the area, has sought transfer to another post as he cannot withstand the tension in the area.

The last straw was when PAD's 24 guards, known as Sri Wichai warriors, stormed into and occupied the restricted area on Thursday in their preparation for the protest. Suwan failed to remove the guards out of the area. Kathalak district police chief Pol Colonel Chatchawan Kaeowchandee spent hours negotiating with them yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday urged the PAD not to storm into the disputed area as it could spark a conflict with Cambodia.

"Who are relatives of the PAD protester, please warned them not to go into Cambodian side, it could cause international problem. If so, it is really difficult to solve," he said.

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