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Google enters fray in Thai-Cambodia border dispute

Tue, 02/09/2010 - 8:01pm
SOPHENG CHEANG - Associated Press Writer - Associated Press

Google Inc. said Wednesday it would look into a complaint from Cambodia that an online map showing the country's border with Thailand was wrong, though it stopped short of saying it would change the document.

The Internet giant was responding to a request last week from Cambodia to replace a Google Earth map that the government said was "devoid of truth and reality, and professionally irresponsible, if not pretentious."

Cambodian-Thai relations have been strained by competing claims to the border area near an 11th-century mountaintop temple called Preah Vihear. The world court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Several gun battles in the area since 2008 have killed at least seven Thai and Cambodian soldiers, and both sides have refused to back away from their positions, each saying it has the rightful claim to the land.

Cambodia complained in its letter to Google that the map features a border that would put half the temple in Thailand.

Google, in a letter sent to the government and provided to reporters Wednesday, said it was "carefully reviewing" Phnom Penh's objection but also suggested that it contact Tele Atlas, a mapping company it says provided the border data to the company.

"We understand that the governments of both Thailand and Cambodia are pursuing bilateral negotiations to clarify the existing borders between the two countries and we would be happy to review any authoritative border data which the government of Cambodia can provide," said the letter, dated Feb. 9 and signed by Ross LaJeunesse, Google's head of public policy and government affairs for Asia Pacific.

A spokeswoman for Tele Atlas could not immediately be reached for comment.

The border issue has been used by politicians to stir up nationalist sentiment in both Thailand and Cambodia for decades.

Thai nationalists consider the 1962 ruling on the temple an injustice. Last year, Thai-Cambodian relations soured when Bangkok first backed, then opposed Cambodia's bid to have the temple declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some Thais believe the designation undermines their claims to a small area of surrounding land, despite denials by the U.N. cultural agency.

Tensions were stoked again over the weekend when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited the area. On Tuesday, he vowed to bring the entire border dispute to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Cambodia wants Google to replace its current map with one the government says was accepted in 1908 by Thailand.

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Associated Press writer Michael Casey in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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