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Monday, July 28, 2008

Thailand, Cambodia agree to pull back some troops

By SOPHENG CHEANG

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia and Thailand agreed Monday to pull back 1,200 troops stationed near a historic temple, but failed to end the long-running border dispute that has stirred up nationalist anger on both sides.

Foreign ministers from the two Southeast Asian neighbors agreed to hold further meetings on how to demarcate a slice of land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, but no date was set for the next meeting.

About 800 Cambodian troops and another 400 from Thailand stationed inside and around a pagoda near the temple complex will be pulled back. It is unclear, however, where those troops will be moved and when it will take place.

"We cannot solve all problems at one meeting. We need to take gradual steps," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. "The immediate task is to avoid clashes through the redeployment of troops."

Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag agreed "the meeting would help reduce tension at the border."

Moving troops from the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda is considered significant, since that is where Thai troops first deployed earlier this month. Soon after, Cambodian moved troops into the area and the two sides engaged in a tense armed confrontation on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

The Cambodians eventually pulled back from the standoff and the two sides have since have managed to keep a lid on tensions.

The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators criticized Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application to UNESCO. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

A first round of talks on July 21 foundered over what maps should be used to demarcate the border. It prompted Cambodia to request a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before agreeing to the second round of talks with Thailand.

Hor Namhong said Friday he was hopeful the new talks would end the impasse, but also warned his government would pursue the case at the U.N. if negotiations failed again.

A French map demarcating the border generally favors Cambodia, and Thailand rejects it, saying it was drawn up by a colonial power to its own advantage.

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.

Cambodia's ruling party tapped into growing nationalism over the border dispute to attract voters ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Political analysts in Thailand say Cambodia may be more willing to negotiate a compromise after the strong election showing by Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party — something Cambodian authorities have dismissed.

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Report: No word of breakthrough from Thai-Cambodian border talks, military standoff to ease

BANGKOK, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Monday's day-long talk between Thailand and Cambodia on the disputed border around the Preah Vihear Temple, has produced no breakthrough by now, though two sides agreed to ease military stand-off along the border, reports here said.

The Nation news website quoted Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, who represented his country in the second round of bilateral talks on the border dispute, as saying that the two sides agreed to "adjust" the military deployment along the border, which has been strengthened in the past two weeks.

They agreed that both sides should exercise utmost restraint and seek further peaceful solution to solve the problem, according to Hor Nam Nong, without further elaboration. Both sides also supported de-mining and land demarcation in the disputed border area, the website said.

The military adjustment would not affect territorial sovereignty and has no implication to future border demarcation, the report said.

Hor Nam Nong had been engaged in a marathon meeting with Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag, who was just sworn in on Sunday, at a hotel in Cambodia's Siem Reap province on Monday.

The meeting lasted for some 12 hours. The atmosphere was reported to be tense, and Tej Bunnag went to consult with Thai delegation at the lunch time after the morning session. Both delegations had to postpone their flights, pending the negotiation.

Monday's talks was a follow-up to the first-round bilateral meeting which earlier took place in Thailand's central border province Sa Kaew, chaired by Thai Supreme Commander Gen Boonsang Niempradit and Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Tea Banh.

The talks ended without any solution except for a mutual understanding about military restraint.

Monday's meeting was also the first task, and a hard start for Thailand's newly-appointed Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag.

Tej, a veteran diplomat, was appointed as the head of Thailand's Foreign Affairs after his predecessor Noppadon Pattama resigned earlier this month over the dispute concerning a long disputed 4.6-sq-kilometer area claimed by both countries, which is adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

The resignation came after a Constitutional Court ruling held that Noppadon's signing a Thai-Cambodian Joint Communique to endorse Thailand's support for Cambodia's bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site was in breach of the Constitution.

The temple was listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)earlier this month.

The issue has arouse a wave of nationalist sentiment in the country. And the two countries has since been locked in a military standoff on the border between Kantharalak district, Si Sa Ket province in Thailand's northeast, and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province where the 11th century Khmer-style Hindu temple Preah Vihear is located.
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