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Cambodian military commanders wary of Preah Vihear detente

Cambodian military commanders wary of Preah Vihear detente

Officers on the de facto frontline say they will stand their ground until orders to withdraw come from the top

CAMBODIAN military commanders at Preah Vihear reacted cautiously to news this week that Thai and Cambodian leaders had tentatively agreed to redeploy troops from nearby the historic temple, but said they had yet to receive orders to move from their positions and would remain ready for combat until they were told to stand down.

“I received no order to withdraw troops,” said Lieutenant General Chea Saran, a deputy infantry commander on the de facto front line just hundreds of metres from the 11th-century Hindu ruins where hundreds of Thai and Cambodian soldiers have massed.

“While the meeting results were not yet good, tensions have eased,” he added, referring to Monday’s crisis talks in Siem Reap.

“Cambodia has no problem withdrawing its armed forces – we can do it at any time but the Thai soldiers have to do this as well.”

In the two weeks since the military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand began, soldiers from both sides have battled cold, hunger and boredom while the countries’ leaders traded diplomatic barbs and refused to relinquish any territory around the temple.

Cambodian and Thai troops remained bivouacked within metres of each other Tuesday, sometimes trading jokes or cigarettes.

Relations for the most part have remained cordial during the standoff, with guns being drawn only once last week after dozens of Cambodian monks entered a pagoda where Thai troops had rallied.

The ambiguous ending to Monday’s talks have only added to the uncertainty over how the largest military buildup in years would be resolved.

“Top officials are doing the negotiating with the Thai side but we, the soldiers, are continuing to do our duty and remain on alert ... we are waiting for our orders,” said Nuon Nov, deputy commander of Military Region 4, saying, however, the border demarcation by both Thai and Cambodian soldiers was continuing.

Others said they were excited to hear that talks had moved forward following last week’s breakdown of negotiations and fears that the crisis would erupt into violence amid reports that more troops and heavy equipment, including tanks and artillery, were being deployed on both sides of the border.

“I am excited to hear that both sides have agreed to withdraw their armed forces from the pagoda – it eases tensions at the temple,” said Chan Sokhon, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who said he served alongside Thai troops in the early 1980s during the fight against Vietnamese soldiers.

“War is no good at all. Neither side would benefit if they go to war,” he added.

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