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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cambodia, Thailand Reluctant to Act in Border Standoff

Cambodia, Thailand Reluctant to Act in Border Standoff

BANGKOK (AFP) - Cambodia and Thailand both signalled their willingness Tuesday to stand down troops amassed along their disputed border, but neither showed any immediate signs of making the first move.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters that his country's troops were ready to withdraw, but indicated that Thailand would have to pull out first from the disputed patch of land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

"For us, there is no problem at all. The issue is that it is up to Thailand to decide to act. For us, (we are ready) any time," Hun Sen said in Phnom Penh.

"The problem is the timing and how long it will take the Thai side to have a political decision from the government," he said.

His comments came as a Thai foreign ministry official said the government in Bangkok may ask parliament for approval before withdrawing troops, which could delay the process by several weeks.

"Both countries need to pass their domestic legitimacy processes," ministry spokesman Tharit Charunvat told AFP.

Thailand's army chief confirmed that any withdrawal from the border area would take time.

"The resolution from the meeting between Cambodia and Thailand (on Monday) will help relieve tension and improve the situation," Anupong Paojinda told AFP by phone.

"Lowering the troops at the border, however, needs to receive an order from the government first."

But Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej sought to reassure the public, telling reporters: "The foreign ministry is talking to the military. Everything is fine."

The current uncertainty follows high-level talks on Monday aimed at removing up to 1,500 soldiers from the temple area and ending the two-week long dispute.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met with his newly-appointed Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag in the northeast Cambodian town Siem Reap.

After about 12 hours of talks, the foreign ministers said they would ask their governments to redeploy the troops from the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, a decision which eased tensions on the border.

"The situation is now a little bit better than in past days. Soldiers keep their weapons in one place and are walking around," said Major General Srey Dik, commander of Cambodian forces in the disputed area.

"We hope that soon the troops from both sides will withdraw from the area," he added.

The ruins of the Khmer temple belong to Cambodia, but the most practical entrance begins at the foot of a mountain in Thailand, and both sides claim some of the surrounding territory.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.

Cambodia had asked the United Nations Security Council to take up the latest conflict over the temple but suspended its request to allow the current talks to proceed.

The latest conflict has inflamed nationalist sentiment in both countries. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen's strong stance on the temple helped him win general elections on Sunday.

In Thailand, embattled premier Samak is threatened by nationalist protesters who have made the temple a core issue in calling for his resignation.

Both sides have toned down their rhetoric after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced concern about the conflict and called for a peaceful resolution.


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