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PMs agree to find solution bilaterally

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October 25, 2008

Thailand-Cambodia Border Dispute:
PMs agree to find solution bilaterally

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen agreed Friday on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit here to resolve a border dispute by bilateral means without third-party involvement, reported Kyodo news agency.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meanwhile said it is ready to step in on the border issue between the neighbours, even as the leaders of the two warring countries said Friday that they have put the recent clashes behind them.

“Asean is ready to help but the concerned parties said they will exhaust all resources first," Asean secretary general Surin Pitsuwan was quoted by The Nation as telling journalists from Southeast Asia in an exclusive briefing on Friday  in Beijing.

In a related report, AFP said the foreign ministers of the Southeast Asian neighbours said the two leaders agreed to avoid future clashes. They were speaking in Beijing after talks between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart Somchai Wongsawat,

"The two sides have to advise our troops not to have confrontations any longer," Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornviwat told reporters, summarising the agreement made on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, standing alongside Sompong, echoed his counterpart, describing the talks as "very good, very friendly".

"We are moving in a good track. Not only to solve the problem of the borders between our two countries but also on a good track to improve our neighbourliness and cooperation," Hor Namhong said.

Tensions between the two neighbours flared in July when an ancient temple on their border was awarded United Nations World Heritage status, rekindling long-running tensions over ownership of land surrounding the temple.

The situation quickly escalated into a military confrontation, with up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops facing off for six weeks, although both sides in August agreed to reduce troop numbers in the main disputed area.

Shots were exchanged last week between soldiers stationed on disputed land near the temple, which belongs to Cambodia, leaving one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers dead.

Negotiations between military leaders in northern Cambodia on Friday sounded a similar note, with senior Thai officials insisting that talks with their Cambodian counterparts were easing the border tensions.

The Thai commanders, led by Lieutenant General Wiboonsak Neeparn, said there was a "friendly atmosphere" in the talks with the Cambodians but insisted Thailand's soldiers would stand firm.

"The Thai side strongly reiterates that the position of our troop deployments is clearly inside Thai territory," said a statement from Thai commanders released as the meetings began.

Thailand's terms of negotiation must be approved in parliament on Tuesday before the two countries can hold further border talks.

Cambodian and Thai military officials agreed to joint border patrols a day after last week's clashes. But Cambodian commanders have since backed out, saying such patrols are not possible in disputed areas.

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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