L.B. Cambodians Rally Against Border Dispute
LONG BEACH - Flags waved, music played and 50 to 100 members of the Cambodian community gathered at MacArthur Park on Saturday to stage a petition drive, collect donations and present information about a tense border dispute and military standoff between Thailand and their home country near an 11th century Hindu temple.
Leaders from a variety of Cambodian civic groups hastily put the event together to get the word out about worrisome events in Cambodia that have led to several narrowly avoided skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian military forces.
The local group gathered about 400 signatures on a petition asking the United Nations to intervene in the dispute. The nonprofit group Cambodian-Americans Stand United also asked for donations from residents to provide humanitarian aid to troops and residents in the remote area.
It is also calling for a boycott in the community of Thai products and imported foods.
Organizers were happy with the turnout, given the short notice. Richer San said KBN, a local Cambodian television station, did a three-hour segment on the dispute and was flooded by calls and interest in the issue.
Anthony Kim, an organizer, said more petitions would likely be circulated in coming days.
"We're very excited to see the turnout," Kim said.
He added that since the issue has been raised, he has been proud to see the local community pulling together and displaying patriotic interest in their homeland.
While the information was circulated, a band played popular and patriotic Cambodian songs.
Darany Siv, Un Sophal, Oum Sovany and Hem Vanakl, singers from the popular Hak Heang Restaurant, stopped by to lend their backing and took time to perform a song for those who had gathered.
"We just came by to support this," Siv said.
San said the music and festive nature of the event was meant to exemplify the peaceful nature of the gathering and not to incite anyone.
The government of Cambodia recently postponed a request for U.N. intervention as the countries seek a resolution.
The dispute focuses on a longstanding disagreement over 1.8 miles of land along the northern Cambodia border. The disagreement was heightened when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, designated the Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia a World Heritage site.
Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government groups claimed support by Prime Minister Sundaravej Samak's government for Cambodia's application would undermine Thai claims to nearby land.
Since the dispute began, Thai forces have taken up positions around the temple on disputed land. Cambodians say it is tantamount to an invasion.
The World Heritage designation could be an important step in turning the remote clifftop temple into a tourist site, like the immensely popular Angkor Wat complex near Siem Reap. And that increases the stakes for the land.
Local organizers said they are also worried about the health and welfare of residents and soldiers in the area. Reports have come from the area that water is particularly scarce. Because of the temple's cliffside location it is particularly difficult to reach from the Cambodian side and Thai troops have reportedly cut off other access routes.
Danny Vong, another organizer, said Cambodian residents in the area have been caught up in the dispute. Many depend on trade with Thai merchants for essentials.
Foreign ministers from both countries are scheduled to meet Monday in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, according to The Associated Press.
"This is a new step in our good will to try to find a solution to the problem through peaceful negotiations," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told the AP after meeting with ambassadors to Cambodia from the Security Council's five permanent members.
Cambodia uses a French colonial map to mark the border while Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
HOW TO HELP
To contribute: People interested in making donations for humanitarian aid to residents of the Preah Vihear area can send checks to the Cambodian Cultural Arts Association, P.O. Box 5001, Long Beach, CA 90805.
For information: Call Bunsorng Tay, 562-716-2506; Danny Vong, 562-760-9000; Peter Long, 562-572-7407; or Sweety Chap, 562-400-8233.
Labels: Preah Vihear