Cambodia: Thai troops retreat from disputed border

October 14, 2008 at 5:53 am Leave a comment

The Associated Press – October 14, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Thai troops retreated from a disputed border area Tuesday, easing tensions after Cambodia’s prime minister issued an ultimatum that the troops withdraw or face unspecified consequences.

Cambodian army commander Brig. Gen. Yim Pim said all Thai troops in the area had retreated to their camp about half a mile from the contested territory some 90 minutes before the noon deadline set by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“The tense situation has now eased,” Yim Pim told The Associated Press.

A Thai army spokesman could not be immediately reached to confirm the withdrawal.

Earlier Tuesday, Hun Sen had warned Thailand to pull back 84 troops from the area by noon. He accused the troops of crossing into Cambodian territory near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which has been a source of enmity between the two countries for decades.

“They must withdraw,” Hun Sen said during a speech at an economic conference in the capital, Phnom Penh. “I have set the timeline for them to withdraw by 12 o’clock.” Noon in Cambodia is 1 a.m. EDT.

“At any cost, we will not allow Thai troops to invade this area. I would like to be clear about this,” Hun Sen said. He added that he had ordered Cambodia’s army chiefs to “take full responsibility over this area. It is a life-and-death battle zone.”

Thailand’s Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said earlier in the day he had ordered the army to “take care of the situation so there is no violence.”

“We do not object to redeployment so there is no confrontation,” Somchai told reporters as he headed into Tuesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Both countries have long claimed Preah Vihear, but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962. Sovereignty over some of the land around the temple, however, has not been clearly resolved.

Tensions flared July 15 after UNESCO, the U.N. agency, approved Cambodia’s bid to have the Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage Site. Both sides deployed troops to the border and at several points came close to armed clashes.

Two Thai soldiers lost legs earlier this month after stepping on land mines, three days after a brief gunfight broke out between soldiers from the two sides. One Cambodian and two Thai soldiers were wounded. Both sides claimed the other fired first and blamed each other for being on the wrong side of the border.

Hun Sen met Monday with Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat, but the meeting appeared to end without a resolution.

He said Monday, “We told them that if they do not stop (trespassing), armed clashes will break out.”

There has been a limited troop withdrawal from the area since, and talks have been held several times to resolve the conflicting claims, but without much progress.

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Entry filed under: Politics, Preah Vihear Issue. Tags: .

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