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Higher ground

Heng Chivoan
Cambodian soldiers string razor wire at the international checkpoint at Preah Vihear as the military standoff over disputed border territory stretches into its fourth week.

Thai troops withdrew late Tuesday from a disputed temple along the frontier with Cambodia, Defense Minister Tea Banh said, more than a week after occupying the Cambodian-claimed ruins and sparking another border dispute.

“All Thai soldiers withdrew from Ta Moan Thom [temple], and are back to their former positions," Tea Banh told the Post.

The withdrawal came amid reports that Thai soldiers had also tried to occupy a mountain inside Cambodia near Preah Vihear temple, the scene of an ongoing standoff between Cambodian and Thai military over disputed territory around the 11th-century ruins.

“It was another armed confrontation between Cambodian and Thai soldiers, but there was no shooting,†General Srey Doek, commander of Brigade 12, said.

“If they continue to press forward, our soldiers will take action to stop them. They are digging bunkers in front of our soldiers’ base. We have measures to employ against them if they dare to take the mountain,†he said, without elaborating on strategy.

Lieutenant Colonel Chan Sokhon of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces general command, confirmed the troop movements by both sides.

He said that while only 100 Thai soldiers headed the encroachment, hundreds of paratroopers stand ready to reinforce them.

“This mountain is in Cambodian territory and Cambodian soldiers have controlled it a long time, but the Thais are trying to occupy it,†he said Tuesday.

“They want to do as they did at Preah Vihear. They intend to control it.â€

Hundreds of Cambodian and Thai troops remain dug in around Preah Vihear after Thai soldiers first crossed the border on July 15, sparking the largest military build-up in recent years and raising fears that the standoff could erupt into open conflict.

Although the Thai and Cambodian government have agreed to withdraw their troops, little progress has been made towards re-deploying the soldiers.

But Thai soldiers have left Ta Moan Thom, following a meeting Tuesday between Thai military and Cambodian provincial officials.

San Vanna, deputy governor of Oddar Meanchey province, called the one-hour talks with Thai military officials at the  O’Smach checkpoint in Samrong district a success, adding that “both military forces can patrol near the temple as we have done before, and let the border committee decide demarcation before claiming the templeâ€.

“We were happy and we had tea together,†he told the Post.

Thai forces, which have already occupied the smaller Ta Moan Touch temple since 2001, took up positions at nearby Ta Moan Thom on July 27, sparking demands from Cambodian officials that they leave both sets of ruins. Cambodia claims both temples lie in its territory.

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