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Preah Vihear exit talks on agenda

111219_03
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers patrol an area near the Thai border in Oddar Meanchey during clashes with Thailand over Preah Vihear temple. Photo by: Sovan Philong

HIGH-RANKING military officials from Cambodia and Thailand will discuss an International Court of Justice verdict ordering the withdrawal of troops from a demilitarised zone around Preah Vihear temple at a long-awaited meeting of the General Border Committee in the capital on Wednesday, officials said yesterday.

Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Chhum Socheat said officials would discuss bilateral cooperation on border security to fight terrorism, drug smuggling and human trafficking, as well as the ICJ verdict, at the GBC meeting.

A firm agenda would be set at the GBC’s secretariat meeting in Phnom Penh today, he said.

“The [GBC] meeting is to review the previous year’s cooperation between the two defence ministries,” Chhum Socheat said. “The troop withdrawal will also be discussed in order to comply with the ICJ order.”

The ICJ ruled on July 18 that troops from both countries stationed along the border near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple must withdraw from a newly established demilitarised zone around the temple and allow Indonesian observers to monitor a ceasefire.

Deadly border clashes in Preah Vihear province in February and Oddar Meanchey province in April left at least 28 people dead and thousands of families displaced.

The meeting of the GBC – which discusses issues related to the Thai-Cambodian border –  was postponed after Thailand requested a delay in order to form its cabinet following national elections in July, and then because of  flooding.

Meanwhile, the Defence Ministry yesterday denied allegations that Cambodian military officials deliberately shot a Thai military helicopter on Thursday, saying it was “a warning” after the helicopter tried to land in a prohibited zone in Koh Kong province.

“We strictly told them not to land, but they did not listen to us,” Chhum Socheat said.

“We deny information that we were shooting on purpose, as it would be a provocation to damage the good relationship between the two defence ministries.”

On Thursday, Cambodian soldiers along the border in Koh Kong province’s Mondul Seima district fired more than 100 bullets at the helicopter after it reportedly violated Cambodian airspace, forcing the helicopter to land near the border in Thailand.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi could not be reached for comment.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that the Thai opposition Democrat Party lashed out at Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul for failing to lodge a protest with Cambodia after the shooting.

The Royal Thai Marine Corps protested against the shooting in a letter to the Cambodian 3rd military region chief, the Bangkok Post reported.

The newspaper also stated that, following the shooting, Thailand had closed Ban Tha Sen border crossing in Trat province adjoining Cambodia’s Pursat province.

Cambodian military commander at Koh Kong province, Yun Min, said the international gate remained open.

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