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Monday, August 18, 2008

Thai, Cambodian FMs Meet Again for Border Dispute

CHA-AM (PHETCHBURI), Thailand, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- Foreign Ministers from Thailand and Cambodia met Monday at a central Thai resort for a second-round ministerial talks on a border dispute.

Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag greeted his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong and the two had a diner together Monday evening at a hotel in Cha-am district, Phetchburi province in central Thailand, some 220 kilometers southwest Bangkok, near the beach resort town Hua Hin.

The meeting was to start officially on Tuesday morning here, ina bid to find a peaceful solution to a long border dispute regarding areas around the ancient Khmer-style Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, the 11th-century ruins listed recently as World Heritage, and to lay down foundations for future cooperation on demarcation and demining work along a 4.6-sq kilometers disputed border area.

Taking apart in the meeting also include Lt. Gen Sujit Sithiparpa, Thailand's Second Army Commander who is responsible for security in the northeastern region including the disputed area, and his Cambodian counterpart Gen. Chea Mon, Cambodia's Fourth Army Commander.

As a good gesture ahead of the talks, the two sides began pulling out their troops, believed at over 1,000 from each side earlier, stationed around the Preah Vihear Temple, which sits at the border between Thai northeastern province of Si Sa Ket and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province.

Only about ten soldiers from each side remain at a pagoda near the Preah Vihear temple now after the pull-out since Saturday, and some 20 others from each at areas nearby for patrol.

The military stand-off, which has seen a quick increase of military personnel along the disputed border zone by each side, started after three Thais, including a monk, were briefly detained by Cambodian authorities on July 15 for "intruding Cambodian territory" by breaking into the Preah Vihear temple compound to declare Thai sovereignty over the temple.

The temple was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 verdict of the International Court of Justice, which some Thais have been reluctant to accept. The dispute became a hot issue when Cambodia launched efforts to bid for the listing of the temple as a World Heritage Site last year.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee approved Cambodia's application early last month, triggering a wave of national sentiment in Thailand urging the Thai government to take counter actions in defense of territorial sovereignty.

Then Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama was forced to resign last month for signing a joint communique to endorse Thai support for Cambodia's World Heritage bid without prior parliament approval, which was later held unconstitutional. Veteran diplomat Tej was appointed as the successor just in time for the first ministerial talks on July 28 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which produced no breakthrough but an agreement to reduce military deployment along the disputed border.

Thai Foreign Ministry officials reiterated to Xinhua that the Thai side did not instigate the situation by deploying more troops to the disputed area around the Preah Vihear temple, but that Thai authorities had sent letters to Cambodian government a few times to protest the setting up of Cambodian communities around the disputed border area in breach of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by two sides in 2000, which was long before the July 15 incident.

The Cambodian authorities had not acted in response to Thailand' protests, the Thai officials said.

On Monday morning, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Army chief General Anupong Paochinda inspected border points near the Preah Vihear temple.

Reports from Phnom Penh quoted Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong as saying before leaving for Thailand on Monday that he was optimistic about the second bilateral meeting "to seek peaceful resolution to withdraw the troops totally from the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda and the surrounding areas of the Preah Vihear Temple."

Following the meeting, Hor Namhong will also be granted an audience by the Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Tuesday afternoon at the royal summer palace in Hua Hin, where the King now resides, before going back to Cambodia.

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