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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parliament approves Cambodia border talks

By Manop Thip-Osod

Lawmakers at the joint parliamentary session gave negotiators authority late on Tuesday to hold talks with Cambodia to demarcate the land boundary in the disputed area between the two countries.

The endorsement is needed under the constitution ahead of the proposed talks of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) with Cambodia on Nov 10.

Phnom Penh has not responded to the schedule offered to Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

The JBC was set up in 2000. In the past it needed no endorsement from parliament. But Article 190 of the present charter requires that all talks affecting sovereignty be endorsed by senators and MPs. Any agreement emerging from the JBC's negotiations also needs parliamentary approval.

The joint meeting at parliament was held in secret due to concerns by Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat about the sensitivity of the issue.

But the endorsement was easily passed by the senators and MPs with a 409 to seven vote. One lawmaker abstained.

A source at the meeting said MPs from the opposition Democrat party and some senators criticised the attempt to end the border dispute for fear a trade-off would benefit some individuals.

They said Thailand has always been forced on the defensive in the battle for sovereignty over disputed border areas.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the negotiations must not put Thailand at a disadvantage, said the source.

But Mr Sompong assured them there will be no specific groups who will benefit from the talks.

The JBC talks will focus on the overlapping area of 4.6 square kilometres near the Preah Vihear temple, which was the root of the recent border spat. Thailand insists it is in Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket province but Cambodia argues that it is in its territory.

Cambodian and United Nations officials plan to visit the historic temple to highlight the need to safeguard the site after it was damaged in an armed clash with Thai troops, Phai Siphan, a spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers, said on Tuesday.

The visit to the 11th-century temple - which was designated a World Heritage site by Unesco in July - will take place on Nov 7, he said.

He said the trip was originally planned for late November but had been moved up following the Oct 15 clash between Cambodian and Thai soldiers over the disputed border area near the temple.

Cambodian officials have said a stone staircase and a Hindu deity sculpture were damaged by Thai troops. But the Thai Foreign Ministry and army strongly denied the accusation, saying Thai soldiers never used heavy weapons in the border fighting.

Unesco's office in Cambodia did not immediately respond to written questions seeking comment.

But its director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, voiced "grave concern" over the clash and urged Cambodia and Thailand to settle their border dispute peacefully, the agency said on its official website. (with reports from news agencies)


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Cambodia, UN seek to protect border temple

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodian and U.N. officials plan to visit a historic temple near the border with Thailand to highlight the need to safeguard the site after it was damaged in an armed clash with Thai troops, an official said Tuesday.

The visit to the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple — which was designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, in July — will take place on Nov. 7, said Phai Siphan, a spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers.

He said the trip was originally planned for late November but has been moved up following an Oct. 15 clash between Cambodian and Thai soldiers over disputed border territory near the temple.

The fighting, which killed two Cambodians and one Thai paramilitary soldier who died later, has triggered fears of a broader conflict.

Cambodian officials have said a stone staircase and a Hindu deity sculpture were damaged by shrapnel from a grenade fired from the Thai side.

Phai Siphan described the damage as "scratches" but should be taken seriously because the temple is a monument of "universal value and unique achievement." He said his government submitted a report about it to UNESCO last week.

In Bangkok, a spokesman for Thailand's foreign ministry denied Monday that the country's soldiers were responsible for any damage to the temple.

Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said the Thai army has said it only used small weapons during the clash, and that Cambodian troops shot rocket propelled grenades from the grounds of the temple.

The recent gunfight was the latest flare-up in a long-running dispute over a stretch of jungle near the temple. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over surrounding land has never been resolved.

UNESCO's office in Cambodia did not immediately respond to written questions seeking comment.

But its director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, expressed "grave concern" about the recent clash and called on Cambodia and Thailand to settle their border dispute peacefully, the agency said on its official Web site.
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