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Thailand rejects Cambodia’s ultimatum

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October 15, 2008

Thailand-Cambodia Border Dispute
Thailand rejects Cambodia’s ultimatum

Thai soldiers will not leave a disputed stretch of the border with Cambodia despite an ultimatum from Phnom Penh for them to withdraw by midday (0500 GMT) on Tuesday, Reuters quoted Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat as saying.

"We are in our homeland. How can they expect us to leave our home?" he said in reply to a question from a reporter.

In a speech to an economic conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen repeated the deadline for Thai forces to pull back from the area near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, but did not say what consequences would follow.

"We will not let the Thais stand on our land," he said, adding that Cambodian soldiers, many of them battle-hardened Khmer Rouge veterans, were shouting at the Thai lines: "If you want to die, come over here."

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said Bangkok would pull back its troops only as part of wider joint effort to agree on the various disputed parts of the border.

"We have no problem on troop withdrawal to avoid confrontation but we need a joint committee to meet and agree on how far we are going to pull back and how many troops will be withdrawn," he said before a weekly cabinet meeting.

Thai army chief Anupong Paochinda called a meeting with his staff. He was due to attend another meeting of security agencies chaired by Somchai later in the day.

Singapore called for both sides to show restraint.

"We urge both sides to contain emotions, exercise restraint and resolve the issue through negotiations without resorting to force," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Tensions have been high since July, when around 1,000 soldiers on both sides faced off only yards apart in trenches dug into a hillside that until 10 years ago was under the control of remnants of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot's guerrilla army.

At the heart of the dispute is 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub near the temple, which the International Court of Justice awarded to Cambodia in 1962, a ruling that has rankled many in Thailand ever since.

In a related report, Thai News Agency quoted a Thai foreign ministry official as saying that the ministry had met ambassadors of eight Association for Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members and explained the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.

Veerasak Futrakul, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, was quoted as telling the envoys Tuesday  of the border clash between Thailand and Cambodia on October 3 and of the Thai troops stepping on mines while patrolling.

He said the disputed area should have been free of landmines because they had been cleared earlier. The Thai troops found new mines of a variety never previously been used. Thailand believes Cambodia laid the landmines following the October 3 border clash.

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