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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cambodian PM proposes troop pullout deal with Thailand

By Prak Chan Thul

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen shows a document to reporters during a news conference at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh July 22, 2011. Hun Sen on Friday proposed a coordinated agreement with Thailand to withdraw troops simultaneously in compliance with the United Nations' court ordering both nations to pull out military personnel out of the newly defined demilitarized zone on disputed border.
Credit: Reuters/Samrang Pring

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's prime minister proposed Friday a deal with Thailand to simultaneously withdraw troops from a newly defined demilitarized zone, in compliance with a United Nations court ruling aimed at defusing tensions in a disputed border area.

Hun Sen said Cambodia wanted to respond quickly to Monday's verdict by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which ordered troops from both countries to pull out of the territory around an 11th century temple to prevent further flare-ups.

Thai and Cambodian forces traded gunfire and shelling at two stretches of the 800 km (500 mile) frontier in February and April, killing a total of 18 people and displacing tens of thousands of villagers.

"Troop withdrawal must be done simultaneously. The ruling requires both sides to withdraw troops, not just Cambodia," Hun Sen said at a rare news conference that lasted two-and-a-half hours.

Indonesia, chairing the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), agreed in February to send 15 unarmed observers to preserve a ceasefire, but that mission never materialized and Thailand, and in particular its military, has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue.

Sovereignty of large stretches of the Thai-Cambodia border has been disputed since the French withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s, with the Preah Vihear temple the thorniest subject.

The temple was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 international court ruling but both nations lay claim to 4.6 sq km (2.5 sq miles) of land around it.

Hun Sen said both sides should cooperate fully with the observers, when deployed, and give details to the ICJ about the number and location of their military personnel. He did not propose a timeframe, but said talks should begin immediately.

Relations between the historic foes have been strained since Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government came to power in December 2008 and reversed a previous administration's decision to back Cambodia's listing of Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hun Sen said he was looking forward to working with a new Thai government led by Prime Minister elect Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, an ally of the long-serving Cambodian strongman.
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