Monday, July 28, 2008

Cambodian, Thai wait for other to redeploy first

Graphic on the situation at the Preah Vihear temple on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Foreign ministers from Cambodia and Thailand opened a new round of talks Monday on a nearly two-week military standoff over an ancient temple that has raised tensions in the region.(AFP/Graphic/Anibal Maiz)
By Ker Munthit (AP)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - An agreement to end a tense border standoff between Cambodian and Thai troops near an ancient temple stalled Tuesday as both sides waited for the other to make the first move and redeploy their forces.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said he was ready to pull troops back, but was leaving the timing up to Thailand. A Thai army commander said his troops had made no immediate plan to leave. The two countries agreed Monday to pull back the 800 Cambodian troops and 400 Thai soldiers stationed near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, but failed to resolve the main dispute over rights to a strip of land near the temple.

It remained unclear where the troops would be sent or when the move would take place. "For our side, there is no problem at all," Hun Sen told reporters in the capital, Phnom Penh. "The issue is up to Thailand to decide when to act. For us, anytime." Cambodian Maj. Gen. Srey Doek, contacted by telephone at the border, said his troops "still have a standing order to remain calm and exercise restraint. Thai troops are keeping the same position and so are we. "But both sides do not want to wage war and only desire to live in peace with each other," he said.

Thai army commander Gen. Anuphong Paochinda said his troops also had no immediate plan to budge. "Thai soldiers will pull out from the area only after we receive an order from the government," Anupong told reporters in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

The standoff has stoked nationalist sentiment in both countries and helped strengthen Hun Sen's popularity ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Hun Sen, whose ruling party appears to have won in a landslide, has taken a tough stance in the dispute. The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking anti-government demonstrations near the temple. Both sides stationed soldiers near the temple July 15, claiming the other had moved troops in first. Shots were almost fired on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

A first round of talks July 21 foundered over which map should be used to demarcate the border. It prompted Cambodia to request a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before agreeing to the second round of talks with Thailand. Monday's talks ended with both sides agreeing that further talks were needed to resolve the larger border dispute.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear and the land it occupies to Cambodia. The decision still rankles many Thais even though the temple shares the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex. The decision was based on a French colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favors Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance.

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