Friday, October 17, 2008

Tensions Ease?

Border stays tense, but armies back off

Thailand and Cambodia yesterday agreed to joint patrols and left the more serious issue of troop reductions to the next round of talks aimed at easing tensions at their disputed border.

The decision was reached in five hours of negotiations under the Regional Border Committee between Second Army commander Lt-Gen Wiboonsak Neeparn and Cambodian Fourth Army chif Gen Chea Mon at the tourist service centre on Pha Mor E Daeng in Si Sa Ket.

Both sides will resume talks in Siem Reap next Tuesday, said Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Chakkabatr.

At this stage, both sides will keep their troops in the area and have joint patrols, Gen Songkitti added. But he cautioned that Thai soldiers were ready to protect the country if it was invaded.
Lt-Gen Wiboonsak said joint patrols would be introduced to "prevent this kind of incident from happening again".

"We did not make much progress. Troops on both sides will stay where they are," he said.

The fighting between the two countries on Wednesday at Phu Ma Khua and Pha Mor E Daeng came after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday gave Thailand an ultimatum to withdraw its soldiers from the disputed area. Thailand insists it is part of Thai territory.

Seven Thai troops were injured and two Cambodian soldiers died in the clashes.

Army deputy spokesman Col Werachon Sukondhapatipak said no Thai soldiers were captured as claimed by Cambodia. The soldiers in the pictures were stationed at Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda near the Preah Vihear temple.

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh called the outcome "a good result". "We understood each other," he said. "We cannot patrol individually because it could lead to a misunderstanding."

The clashes caused concern at the United Nations and among the international community
In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the two countries to "exercise utmost restraint and expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be resolved peacefully."

There are 1,000 Thais in Phnom Penh and about 500 in Siem Reap.
Thai ambassador to Cambodia Viraphand Vacharathit said about 600 Thais had returned to Thailand after the Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that Thais who did not need to stay in Cambodia should return to the kingdom.

Cambodian riot police were deployed 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 said.

The current stand-off first flared in July after Preah Vihear was awarded World Heritage status, angering some nationalist Thais who claim Thailand 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.

Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda yesterday confirmed Thai troops were ready to protect Thai soil. Air Force chief ACM Ithaporn Supawong said the air force would deploy aircraft to evacuate the remaining Thais in case of emergency.

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