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Tension eased as troops withdraw

 

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August 19, 2008

Thai-Cambodia border talks:
Tension eased as troops withdraw

Tensions over an ancient Khmer temple have eased following the withdrawal of most soldiers from the ruins, AFP quoted the Thai foreign ministry spokesman as saying Tuesday as new border talks opened with Cambodia.

"The situation is moving in a positive manner. The tension is now being cooled down," Tharit Charungvat told reporters as foreign ministers from both countries began meeting in the Thai beach resort town of Hua Hin, southwest of Bangkok.

At the weekend, up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops pulled back from a small patch of disputed land near Cambodia's 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, suggesting that an end to the month-long military stand-off could be near.

Twenty troops from both sides remain stationed at a small pagoda in the contentious border area, while 40 Cambodian and Thai solders remain nearby.

 
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag met for dinner late Monday in Hua Hin, and were expected to hold talks through the day Tuesday.

"The situation has improved quite a lot in regards to the standoff between the militaries from both sides," Tharit said. "The tension around the area has been eased. We hope very much that the situation will go back to normal as soon as possible."

Relations between the neighbours flared up last month after Preah Vihear was awarded world heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the ancient Khmer temple.

On July 15, Cambodia arrested three Thai protesters for illegally crossing the border to try to reach the temple, sparking the deployment of troops from both sides on the tiny patch of disputed land near Preah Vihear.

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

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

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