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Cambodia warns Thailand of "large-scale armed conflict"

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October 14, 2008

Thailand-Cambodia Border Dispute:
Cambodia warns Thailand of "large-scale armed conflict" 

Cambodia on Monday warned Thailand to immediately withdraw troops from a disputed border area or risk "large-scale armed conflict" as the neighbours failed to reach a negotiated settlement, reported AFP.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted as telling reporters he had warned visiting Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornviwat that without a quick pullout, Thai troops could face enemy fire, in a further escalation of long simmering tensions.

"If they cannot withdraw tonight, tomorrow they must withdraw," Hun Sen said.

"We try to be patient, but I told the Thai foreign minister today that the area is a life-and-death battle zone," he added.

His comments came after talks with Sompong in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Sompong also met with his counterpart Hor Namhong in a bid to resolve the dispute over the area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Hor Namhong told reporters that while he was meeting with Sompong, he had received word that about 80 Thai soldiers had attempted to cross the border near the Khmer temple into Cambodia.

"I told my Thai counterpart that sending a lot of troops along the border is dangerous and can provoke a large-scale armed conflict," he told reporters, adding: "Even one shot can lead to a large-scale armed conflict."

Major general Srey Deok, who oversees the Cambodian military in the disputed area, told AFP: "Thai troops have already entered the area. They are confronting our troops."

But Thai border commander Major General Kanok Netrakavaesana said his troops were merely on patrol, noting: "The Thai army has a responsibility to take care of the area... We stay where we stay."

The Cambodian foreign minister said Monday's talks failed to end in agreement because his Thai opposite number "could not sign on anything."

Soon after returning to Bangkok, Sompong said he would discuss the Cambodian request with the Thai prime minister before taking any action.

"I will investigate the facts first and I will bring this topic to the prime minister," he said, but added that he thought more meetings between the two countries were the best way to solve the stand-off.

Meanwhile, Singapore, a fellow member of the ten-nation Asean, expressed concerns about the situation on the Thai-Cambodian border, reported the city-statenews agency Channel News Asia.

In response to media queries on remarks made by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a spokesman from Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the Republic hoped both parties would not lose sight of their broader common interests and the interests of the region as a whole.

Singapore, he said, urged both sides to contain emotions, exercise restraint and resolve the issue through negotiations without resorting to force.

Tensions between the neighbours first flared in July after the temple was awarded world heritage status by the United Nations cultural body Unesco, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

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

Tensions escalated into a military confrontation in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks. The two countries have swapped accusations of violating each other's territory in the dispute.

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