PREAH VIHEAR TEMPLE Cambodia cuts troops at temple

Cambodia has cut back its military presence at Preah Vihear Temple - a trigger point in the past year - while Thailand's Parliament is expected to allow the two countries to move ahead with boundary demarcation in the overlapping area.

"We have pulled out 50 per cent of the troops from Preah Vihear Temple," Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodia's National Defence Ministry, said yesterday.

"This shows that the situation at the border is really getting better, and that both countries have a mutual understanding of peace," he said. Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the controversial Hindu temple since last year when Thailand opposed Phnom Penh's move to inscribe the Khmer sanctuary on Unesco's list of world heritage sites.

After the UN World Heritage Committee granted the coveted status in July 2008, both countries boosted their military forces in the area, with clashes following twice in October and April, leaving seven soldiers of both sides dead.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week said Thailand had just 30 soldiers stationed on the border, meaning Cambodia could stand some troops down and send them back to their provincial bases.

"We still have enough troops remaining to protect our territory," said General Chea Dara, deputy commander of Cambodia's armed forces.

If Thailand "shows a softer manner" they could cut the numbers further. "However, if anything happened, our troop mobility would be very swift," he said.

The Thai government in June re-ignited the row over the temple when it asked Unesco to reconsider its decision to list the temple located in Cambodia.

However, Unesco did not take the Thai request into consideration. The foreign ministries of the two neighbours maintained peaceful means to resolve the dispute through the Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC).

The JBC met last November, February and April to set a framework on boundary demarcation and provisional arrangements for the disputed area near Preah Vihear.

The results of the three meetings need approval from Parliament so further discussions on the details can be held.

Parliament is set to meet today to consider the minutes submitted by the Foreign Ministry, after the motion was postponed from last week since the Lower House was busy with the marathon debate on the budget bill.

Some senators, however, said they would reject the JBC minutes and demanded the government take a tough position to evict a Cambodian community from the contested area that they considered was under Thai sovereignty.


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