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Friday, August 19, 2011

Phnom Penh softens stance on observers

Indonesian observers may not be needed in the disputed border area with Cambodia, said Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa.

He said yesterday that Cambodia had told him if bilateral talks between the two countries can lead to the withdrawal of troops from both sides, third-party observers may not be necessary.

Cambodia had earlier insisted that third party observers from Indonesia enter the disputed border area, but the country has taken a more compromising stance following the Pheu Thai Party's election victory last month.

Mr Yutthasak cited a recent conversation with Defence Minister Tea Banh, who placed his hopes in negotiations of the Regional Border Committee (RBC) and the General Border Committee (GBC) as ways to solve the row.

If Thailand and Cambodia can reach an agreement in bilateral talks, Indonesian observers may not be needed to monitor a ceasefire, Gen Yutthasak quoted Gen Tea Banh as saying.

"I've appointed acting adviser for the defence minister, Gen Wichit Yathip, to work on the issue," he said.

Gen Wichit, a former deputy army chief, is known to have close ties with Cambodia.

The retired general was assigned to deal with Thai-Cambodian issues during his service in the army.

The withdrawal of Thai and Cambodian soldiers from the disputed border area near Cambodia's Preah Vihear ruins has become a priority for the countries, following an order by the International Court of Justice in Hague last month.

The ICJ ruled that the area around the temple should be declared a demilitarised zone, pending its consideration of Cambodia's complaint over the ownership of a 4.6-square kilometre overlapping border area near the temple.

Representatives of the two countries will attend the RBC meeting, co-chaired by Thai 2nd Army commander Lt Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon and Cambodia's 4th Army chief Chea Mon, on Wednesday and Thursday in Nakhon Ratchasima.

The RBC will set a discussion framework for the GBC which will hold talks soon afterward in Phnom Penh, according to Gen Yutthasak.

"We will discuss how we will live together and how we will manage the troops," said army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, referring to the RBC meeting.

Gen Yutthasak was optimistic about the meetings. He even hoped tourists may be allowed to visit the Preah Vihear temple if the GBC meeting turns out well.

Gen Prayuth yesterday visited Pha Mo I Daeng in Si Sa Ket, which is close to the border. There were no traces of tension, he said.

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