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Football used to ‘calm’ troops at Preah Vihear

It isn’t 1914, but a new military scheme on Cambodia’s western front aiming to minimise tensions with Thailand has borrowed from a storied World War I tale.

Soldiers from Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to step over the sandbags and onto the football pitch ahead of the International Court of Justice ruling in the Preah Vihear temple case on November 11, according to a military spokesman.

As well as football matches, an agreement reached yesterday includes soldiers dining together in “peace lunches”, and regular calls between the commanders of both forces.

Soli Mo, a military spokesman, said the two commanders at the site had agreed to preserve the peace that has lasted since fighting in 2011 strained relations between the countries. Commanders of the two forces would also begin calling each other once every hour every day until the ruling was made, Mo added.

“The commanders from both sides agreed to maintain the normal military situation and promote communication by gathering for exercises and food. From November 8, they will keep calling each other every hour of every day,” Mo said.

“There is a high determination to maintain peace and good relations.”

Cambodian officials, he added, had rejected a request from Thailand to install loudspeakers along the border to communicate with their counterparts; however, the Thai military went ahead and began testing the PA system last week.

Earlier yesterday, the Bangkok Post reported that the Thai authorities were going to close Pha Mor E-Daeng cliff, a popular tourist attraction in Thailand near the temple ruins, to facilitate the work of security officials prior to the ICJ ruling.

Tea Banh, Cambodia’s minister of defence, and Srei Doek, the military commander at Preah Vihear temple, could not reached for comment.

Cambodia requested in April 2011 that the ICJ revisit a 1962 ruling on possession of the 11th-century temple after clashes erupted between the two countries leaving 18 dead. The original ICJ decision found the temple belonged to Cambodia but was silent on the surrounding land.

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