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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cambodia, Thailand agree joint border patrol but troops remain

A join patrolling of border with Thai troops is a loss for Cambodia side, the patrolling is in Cambodia sovereignty.

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia - Thailand and Cambodia on Thursday agreed to joint patrols of disputed border areas after deadly clashes between the two sides, but made little progress in their months-long spat.

Senior military officials from both sides met in Thailand the day after gunfights broke out on disputed land near Preah Vihear temple, a UN heritage site on Cambodian territory and the focus of months of tensions.

"We will introduce the joint patrol to avoid this kind of incident happening again," said Lieutenant General Wiboonsak Neeparn, Thailand's northeastern army commander, after the five-hour meeting.

Cambodian defence minister Tea Banh called the outcome "a good result."

"We understood each other," he told AFP. "We cannot patrol individually because it could lead to a misunderstanding."

Officials from both countries said there was little headway on the deeper issues of ending the stand-off and withdrawing troops or heavy weaponry from a number of disputed border areas near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

"The meeting has not made much progress, but the two sides agreed to stay where they are," Wiboonsak told reporters.

Governments from both countries have said they are seeking to calm the situation and mend relations, and the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have all called for restraint.

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meanwhile, said his country was ready to mediate between Thailand and Cambodia.

But officials from both sides continue to insist they did not ignite Wednesday's fire-fight, which left two Cambodian soldiers dead and two injured, and seven Thai soldiers wounded.

A third Cambodian soldier who had already been ill died early Thursday of smoke inhalation from repeatedly firing his rocket-launcher, said Cambodian Major Meas Yeoun.

The Cambodian army said it had released 13 Thai soldiers Thursday after they surrendered in a disputed area during fighting, but Thai officials denied any of their troops had been captured.

The situation on the border appeared calmer Thursday as soldiers smiled and exchanged cordial words, an AFP correspondent there said, while officials from both sides toned down their rhetoric.

Lieutenant General Surapol Puanaiyaka, of Thailand's top security body the National Security Council, said there was little danger of outright war.

"I am confident that the situation will not blow out of hand or escalate into full-scale warfare," he said.

Civilians, however, have fled the area and Thai expatriates and tourists are leaving Cambodia.

A Thai official said that 432 Thais who were in Cambodia when the border fighting broke out returned home after the Bangkok government appealed for anyone not on urgent business to leave.

Cambodian riot police were deployed Wednesday in front of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, which was set on fire by anti-Thai rioters in 2003.

Cambodian interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said undercover police were monitoring Thai businesses to ensure their safety.

"We're protecting all Thai businessmen and citizens in Cambodia in case our people get furious and do something wrong that would not benefit either side," Khieu Sopheak told AFP.

The current stand-off first flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded World Heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering some Thai nationalists who claim ownership of the site.

The situation quickly escalated into a military confrontation, with up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers in the main disputed area.

Tensions flared again this week after talks on Monday aimed at cooling the standoff failed.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

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Thai, Cambodian armies keep guns drawn

Chor Sokunthea , Reuters

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia - Thai and Cambodian army commanders ended five hours of talks on Thursday with no agreement to withdraw their forces after heavy fighting near a disputed 900-year-old temple killed two Cambodian soldiers.

"We did not make much progress. Troops on both sides will stay where they are," Thai General Wiboonsak Neeparn told reporters after returning to the Thai side of the border.

He said they had agreed on joint border patrols to ease tensions after Wednesday's 40-minute gun and rocket battle, the worst clash in years between the fractious Southeast Asian neighbours.

His Cambodian counterpart, General Srey Doek, denied any deal over the site, where soldiers backed by armour and artillery faced off in an area controlled a decade ago by remnants of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot's guerrilla army.

Life had returned to normal at one small pagoda near the centre of the fighting, 600 kilometres east of Bangkok, with children running around in the dirt while their parents cooked and cleaned, said a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Ten Thai soldiers, whom Phnom Penh said had been captured, wandered freely in their midst and denied they had ever been taken prisoner.

"We drank coffee and watched the TV news together last night," one of them, Apichart Pupuak, told a Reuters reporter in Thailand via mobile phone.


The hilltop Preah Vihear temple has stirred nationalist passions in both countries for generations, but officials on both sides have toned down their rhetoric since the fighting.

"Our policy to resolve this conflict is through negotiations," Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has kept silent, but his foreign minister urged negotiations, saying the incident was between soldiers and "not an invasion by Thailand".

But people on the streets of Phnom Penh were angry.

"We need to defend our land. We must not lose to the Thais," said security guard Bun Roeun, 36, flicking through newspaper reports of the clashes. "If the Thais continue their attempt to cross our border, I am ready to join the army to fight back."

The confrontation comes amid great political instability and an economic slowdown in Thailand, as protesters in a long-running Bangkok street campaign urge the army to launch a coup against the elected government.

"It's hard to see how Cambodia gains from starting a war with Thailand at this point," said Tony Kevin, a former Australian ambassador to Phnom Penh.

"But if you look at the very tense and riven state of Thai politics, it's easy to see how a Cambodian war could be of interest as a distraction," he said.

China and the United States expressed concern over the violence and urged both sides to use restraint.

Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn, as the Thais call it, sits on a jungle-clad escarpment overlooking northern Cambodia but has been accessible mainly only from Thailand.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, a ruling that has rankled with Thais ever since.

The court failed to determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the stunning but remote Hindu ruins, which have been off-limits to tourists for months.

The small parcel of land became highly politicized in July when protesters trying to overthrow the Thai government adopted it as a cause, accusing Bangkok of selling off Thai soil.

Bangkok has urged its citizens to leave Cambodia, mindful of the 2003 torching of its embassy and Thai businesses in Phnom Penh by a nationalist mob incensed by a row over Angkor Wat, another ancient temple.

Security was beefed up outside the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, but there were no crowds outside and it was operating as normal, a Thai official told Reuters.

Several big Thai companies have operations in Cambodia and some have pulled out Thai nationals, but they said operations were normal.

With files from Nopporn Wong-Anan in Kantaralak, Ek Madra in Phnom Penh, Ed Cropley and Darren Schuettler

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Gov't to guarantee safety of Thais living in Cambodia

Sar Kheng is protecting Thai civilians, Did Sar Kheng ever asked Thai authorities to protect Cambodian civilians? Years, Thai soldiers had shot and killed Cambodian civilians along the border of Khmer-Thailand, some as young as five years old. Who cared for those poors?

Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, has asked to the provincial authorities to take care and guarantee the safety of Thai businesspeople and civilians living in the country, the Raksmey Kampuchea Daily reported on Thursday.

"We need to avoid any violence against them, even both troops had armed clash Wednesday at the border area," he was quoted by the Khmer-language Raksmey Kampuchea Daily as saying.

"I just wrote to inform all our provincial and city governors near the border to keep the good relationship as normal and protect all the Thais," he said, adding that about 1,000 Thais live in Phnom Penh and about 800 in Siem Reap province.

Cambodian side needs no weapon conflict, but both sides just couldn't avoid it Wednesday, he said.

Cambodia has to defend the Veal Intry area, 2,000 meters to the west of the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda which is situated on the only way leading to the ancient Preah Vihear Temple, he said.

"The government considers the Veal Intry area as the main location for reaching the Preah Vihear Temple. If we lose the VealIntry area, we lose the temple," he said.

Thai troops withdrew from the Veal Intry area Tuesday, but came back Wednesday, and our troops didn't allow them to go further, he said.

"Then, Thai troops started shooting at our troops, and the armed clash occurred at the area," he added.

During the two-hour clash Wednesday at the border area, two Cambodian solders were killed and two injured, while ten Thai soldiers were detained by the Cambodian side, said Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong at a press conference held at his ministry late Wednesday.

Cambodia tightened the security around the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Thai side did the same thing around the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, he added.

Regional military commanders from both sides are scheduled to hold meeting Thursday in Thailand in order to find a peaceful solution for the months-long military face off and confrontation over border dispute.

In July, tensions ran high after the ancient Preah Vihear Temple was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

The tension later turned into a military stalemate, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks. In mid-August, most troops withdrew and only a few dozen soldiers stationed near the temple.

Bilateral talks to discuss withdrawing troops from around the temple were postponed late August amid political turmoil in Thailand.

In October, at least one Cambodian soldier and two Thai troops were wounded during an exchange of gunfire and two other Thai soldiers were seriously injured after stepping on a landmine at the border area.

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More than 400 Thais flee Cambodia after border clashes

BANGKOK: More than 400 Thais have fled Cambodia after a deadly border clash between troops from the two countries, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday.

No official evacuation plan is in place, but the ministry has urged all Thais not on urgent business to come home. Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said that 432 of about 1,500 Thais in Cambodia have so far heeded the warning.

"We have convinced them to return on a Thai Airways flight," Tharit said, adding that they arrived home on Wednesday.

Military transport planes remain on stand-by in case an evacuation plan needs to be implemented, he added.

Two Cambodian soldiers were killed and a handful from each side wounded Wednesday after a three-month dispute over patches of land near Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear temple boiled over into gunfights.

Senior military officials from both sides are due Thursday to sit down and try and ease tensions, but there are fears in the Cambodian capital of a repeat of anti-Thai riots that broke out in January 2003.

A dispute over ownership over another temple sparked a night of riots in Phnom Penh that saw Thailand's embassy and several Thai-owned businesses burned and looted, prompting Thai military planes to fly in to rescue their nationals.

Cambodia and Thailand have until recently enjoyed good relations, with many Thai businesses investing in the neighbouring country as economic growth there reaches double digits.

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Border dispute may hurt trade: Cambodian official

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- With violence erupting on the Cambodia-Thai border, government officials and investors warned that the dispute could affect bilateral trade, tourism and investment between the two countries, the Phnom Penh Post reported Thursday.

"Imports of Thai goods have declined lately because many Thai business people fear they will not be able to collect payment from Cambodian whole sellers should the situation on the border deteriorate," Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

Kong Bunly, the trade director for Banteay Meanchey province, said cross-border with Thailand has remained largely unaffected by the dispute over territory around Preah Vihear, but that Thai tourists have stopped crossing into Cambodia.

Meanwhile, an employee at the Thai Plastic Company who asked not to be identified said she is concerned that any armed confrontation between the two countries could affect her company.

"I'm really worried about this because Cambodian people could stop buying Thai products if fighting breaks out," she told the Post.

"This crisis absolutely impacts Thai business in Cambodia and Cambodian employees employed by Thai companies," she said, adding that her manager had already returned to Thailand because of the border crisis.

Two Cambodian soldiers were killed and several Cambodian and Thai troops were wounded during Wednesday's gunfire exchange between the two neighbors.

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