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Cambodia eyes peaceful solution with Thailand


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August 7, 2008

Cambodia eyes peaceful solution with Thailand

Cambodia’s prime minister on Wednesday reiterated his call for a peaceful solution to a border dispute with Thailand, warning that both countries’s economies would suffer if the conflict erupts into a full-scale war, reported AP.

In his first public speech since winning national elections last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen said both countries must “narrow the conflict and expand friendship and cooperation.”

Thai and Cambodian troops have been facing off along their shared border for three weeks over disputed territory _ first near Preah Vihear temple and then at Ta Moan Thom temple.

Hun Sen’s comments came as the confrontation at Ta Moan Thom appeared to be easing, with both sides pulling back their soldiers.

“We cannot just carve out Thailand to put in the sky or move our land away,” Hun Sen said in a two-hour speech Wednesday. “We will coexist for tens of thousands of years to come.”

He also criticized leaflets calling for a Cambodian boycott of Thai goods in response to Thailand’s alleged encroachment onto Cambodian territory near Preah Vihear.

“A border dispute should not turn the two countries into enemies in all domains,” he said. “That is very dangerous.”

He said he was not being “soft,” but warned that if war broke out “the two countries will only stand to lose” in terms of trade and economic cooperation.

The dispute surrounding the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple started when Cambodian officials said some 70 Thai soldiers occupied the temple site last week and prevented Cambodian troops from entering. Thai military officials countered that their troops had been in the area for years.

Agreement for a troop withdrawal from the grounds of the temple was reached late Tuesday during a meeting between officials from the two countries, said Maj. Ho Bunthy, a Cambodian army commander in the area.

The sanctuary is located several hundred miles (kilometers) west of Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby territory.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand remain in the Preah Vihear area despite a tentative agreement reached by foreign ministers last week to redeploy them in an effort to ease tensions.

Hun Sen said another meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers would take place on August 18  in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin, where delegates would discuss plans to redeploy troops and conduct mine clearing operations.

In Thailand, Lt. Gen. Nipat Thonglek, the chief of military border affairs, said Wednesday that his government would set up a committee to consider redeploying its troops from the border area near Preah Vihear temple.

He said the decision was made at a Thai Cabinet meeting Tuesday. He stressed redeployment of troops must be conducted in a manner appropriate with the military’s “duty to protect the sovereignty” of Thailand.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith welcomed the announcement as “good news.” “The sooner the redeployment takes place, the better,” he said.

Thailand and Cambodia sent troops to the border area after UNESCO approved Cambodia’s application to have the Preah Vihear temple complex named a World Heritage Site. Some Thai activists say the temple’s new status will jeopardize their country’s claims to land next to the site.

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