Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thai, Cambodian troops leaving dispute

By Sopheng Cheang (AP, 8/15/08)
Soldier guards entrance to Preah Vihear near Cambodian-Thai border in Cambodia, 152 miles north of capital (AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File).
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A month-long standoff between Thailand and Cambodia appeared to be ending as both sides pulled back their troops Saturday from disputed territory around a temple near their shared border, a Cambodian official said.

The redeployment from the Preah Vihear area began Friday evening and was continuing on Saturday, said Hang Soth, director-general of the Preah Vihear National Authority. The authority is the government agency that manages the historical site.
The standoff near the 11th-century shrine began on July 15 after UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural agency, approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Both countries have long held claim to the temple, but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand had been in the area. The Cambodian military refused to answer questions about the pullout and it was not certain when it would be completed. On Thursday, Cambodian Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Neang Phat said the two countries had agreed to a gradual redeployment of troops from the area ahead of talks Monday between their foreign ministers on territorial disputes.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed Cambodia's World Heritage site bid, sparking demonstrations by anti-government protesters who claimed the temple's new status would undermine Thailand's claim to the surrounding area. The protests left Samak politically vulnerable, and he had to take action to appease his nationalist critics. On July 15, Thailand sent troops to occupy the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda — claimed by Cambodia and near Preah Vihear.

Cambodia responded with its own troop deployment. The two sides came close to a shootout on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda. Troops on both sides raised their weapons, but no shots were fired, and the Cambodians eventually backed down. The border dispute has not been resolved despite two rounds of talks since last month, with the countries referring to two different maps.

Cambodia uses a French colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favors Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance.

A Cambodian soldier stands guard near a pagoda close to Preah Vihear Temple. Thailand's military chief has asked Cambodia to withdraw its soldiers from around a second Khmer ruin along their joint border, raising fears of a fresh territorial dispute (AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy).

No comments: