Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thai Khmer Tension

No retreat

Cambodia claimed on Tuesday that Thai soldiers pulled back from a tense border region, but Thai officials denied making any retreat. Thailand, officials vowed, would not be the first to resort to force along the frontier.

Cambodian army Gen Chea Mon told the Reuters news agency: "They (Thailand) pulled out from our land" shortly before the so-called Phnom Penh ultimatum at noon. "The situation seems to have returned to normal. Our troops are occupying the area where the Thai troops have pulled out."

Sheer nonsense, said Thai officials. "We are still there," Prime Minister and Defence Minister Somchai Wongsawat said after a meeting with Army chief Gen Anupong Paochinda and foreign ministry officials.

Also: "We will not be the side to use force first," he told a press conference. "We will try to use negotiations."

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday shocked Thailand and foreign observers when he gave a deadline of noon on Tuesday to withdraw all its troops from an area adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border or face a "large-scale conflict."

Thai foreign ministry officials expressed surprise at Cambodia's claims that Thailand had already withdrawn its troops from the area, which has been the source of an increasingly volatile spat between the two countries since July.

"We were quite surprised by the withdrawal claim, because we think of this territory as being in Thailand, so why would we withdraw," said Thani Thongphakdi, a deputy spokesman for the foreign ministry.

In a statement issued earlier Tuesday, the foreign ministry also expressed "surprise" at Hun Sen's fighting words, noting that it went against the "sprit of neighbourliness" between fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

After his meeting with Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat in Phnom Penh on Monday, Hun Sen told reporters that he had warned the Thais to withdraw their troops from the disputed area around the Preah Vihear temple or face fighting.

"They must move tonight or tomorrow. If they don't ... there will be fighting," he said.
Cambodia has been pressing to have the border spat settled by a regional or international body, but Thailand has insisted it could be handled bilaterally.

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