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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Border talks pushed back, troops dig in

Border talks pushed back, troops dig in

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Negotiations to be held Friday as soldiers from both sides prepare for a protracted standoff over disputed border territories

Photo by: AFP/TANG CHHIN SOTHY

Cambodian soldiers stand guard during a meeting at the top of a mountain near the

disputed Preah Vihear temple Sunday.

BORDER talks between Cambodian and Thai military commanders have been pushed back to the end of the week, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has moved to defuse tensions with Thailand following last week's fighting near Preah Vihear temple, but troops from both sides are digging themselves in for a protracted conflict.

"The regional border meeting scheduled on October 21 was postponed as the two countries are not yet ready," said Colonel Taweesak Boonrakchart, spokesman for Thailand's northeastern army division.

"On the Thai side, we have to get approval from parliament before the government can sign any pacts."

Speaking to reporters following a cabinet meeting Friday, Hun Sen said last week's hostilities at Veal Antri, which saw three Cambodian soldiers killed and an unconfirmed number of Thai casualties inflicted, had ended and called on Cambodians living along the border to remain calm ahead of the next round of talks.

"The clash was very small, and Cambodia will not use its large-scale armed forces. Neither side has yet to use heavy artillery that can reach long distances, so it means the two sides are willing to solve the matter."

Hun Sen added that the dispute was quickly contained and rejected suggestions Cambodia might need international mediators to solve the crisis.

Hun Sen made no mention of his October 13 ultimatum to the Thai government to remove their troops from the area of Veal Antri or risk "full-scale conflict", saying instead that the two countries would use the "existing mechanism of bilateral negotiation" to resolve the border dispute.

Colonel Som Naroth, military commander for Preah Vihear province, said both sides were taking action to avoid a repeat of last week's fighting.

"We cannot predict the tricks of the Thai soldiers, but at the frontline near Preah Vihear temple things are normal," he said.

"Both sides have regular meetings to ease the situation until the government can solve the problem through diplomacy."

Neang Phat, secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence, confirmed bilateral talks are scheduled for Friday, saying the location was yet to be determined.

They are on alert and the number of troops is increasing on each side.

Digging in

But Muong Sokha, a soldier stationed at the border, told the Post that troops from both sides were digging trenches and bringing in reinforcements in anticipation of a protracted standoff. "The situation is normal, but they are on alert and the number of troops is increasing on each side," he said.
"Commanders from both sides told the troops to fill up the trenches, but they have kept digging."

Tensions between the neighbours have simmered since July, when Unesco approved the listing of the 11th-century temple as a World Heritage site, prompting an angry response from Thai nationalists who claim the ruins as their own. Thai troops soon occupied disputed land nearby. 

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ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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