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Thai cabinet approves cut of troops near disputed temple


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August 6, 2008

Thai cabinet approves cut of troops near disputed temple

Thailand will pull back some troops currently in place at a recently-built pagoda and the nearby ancient temple of Preah Vihear before its foreign minister and his Cambodian counterpart meet again, possibly during the third week of this month, reported the Thai News Agency (TNA) said Tuesday.

The decision was made by the Thai cabinet during its weekly meeting on Tuesday after it officially heard and discussed the outcome of last week’s first meeting between Thai foreign minister Tej Bunnag and Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong in Cambodia’s Siem Reap.

A number of agreements were reached at that meeting, including troop reductions by both countries -- at the pagoda and the nearby Preah Vihear temple -- aimed at reducing tensions along the common border.

Both countries reinforced their troops at the 11th century temple since mid-July when Thai protestors attempted to reach the site from a closed border point.

Thailand Hote

The International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia in 1962. The temple gained the World Heritage status from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in early July.

Thai government spokesman Wichienchote Sukchoterat said the number of troops of the two countries must be reduced equally, with the Thai army and foreign ministry coordinating Thailand’s actions with those of the Cambodian government.

“Some troops will be left to protect our sovereignty and integrity,” Wichienchote said.

The date and site of the second meeting between the two countries foreign ministers have not yet been fixed, the spokesman said, adding that he expected that it would be held during the third week of August.

But a Cambodian government spokesman said in Phnom Penh on Monday that further talks between the two foreign ministers would not take place until Cambodia forms a new government in late September following its general election late last month.

Meanwhile, TNA reported that both countries, which have traded claims over a second disputed temple ruin on their mutual border, on Tuesday also agreed not to dispatch troops into the area in order to ease tensions along the border.

TNA said the agreement was reached following a closed-door talk for half an hour between Maj-Gen Kanok Netrakawesana, commander of Thailand’s Suranaree Task Force, and San Wanna, deputy governor of Cambodia’s Uddor Meanchey province, at the Task Force headquarters in Kap Choeng border district of Surin province.

San later told journalists that the talks were held in a “positive atmosphere” and there would be no more problem. The Cambodian governor said the two countries agreed not to send troops into the disputed area.

The two neighbours are now locked in new unneighbourliness over the Ta Muen Thom ruins, which Thailand claims sits in the Thai border district of Phanom Dong Rak in the northeastern province of Surin, and Cambodia argues is in Cambodia’s Uddor Meanchey province.

Tensions in the area heightened after Gen Boonsang Niempradit, Thai supreme commander, on Monday asked Cambodia to withdraw its soldiers from the temple environs.

The demarcation boundary between the two countries has not yet been settled by the Thailand-Cambodia General Border Committee (GBC).

A Thai foreign ministry spokesman has said the Ta Muen Thom ruin is only one of a number of sites along the unclear boundary between the two countries. Thailand is trying to conduct its actions under the framework of the GBC, he said, and the temple problem should also be discussed under that mechanism.

Thai Fine Arts officials at Ta Muen Thom ruin said Tuesday that Cambodians frequently visited the ruins, especially during April. The number of tourists visiting the site has now increased following reports on tensions in the area.

Theerawat Sudsook, Phanom Dong Rak district officer, said the overall situation along the common border in the district was still normal and that residents on both sides of the border were still communicating with each other normally.

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