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Talks expected to end Preah Vihear standoff

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Cambodia and Thailand’s foreign ministers get down to the business of ending their countries’ worst diplomatic crisis since the 2003 anti-Thai riots

AFP/TANG CHHIN SOTHY

Thai soldiers leave their positions at Preah Vihear temple as part of mass troop withdrawals on both sides this weekend.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong left Monday for talks in Thailand optimistic that a resolution could be reached to end the month long military standoff over disputed territory at Preah Vihear.

Hor Namhong was to meet his Thai counterpart, Tej Bunnag, Monday and today in the second round of negotiations over the crisis, which erupted after Thai troops crossed into Cambodia on July 15 and has resulted in the largest buildup of soldiers and military equipment on the border in years.

"I'm optimistic that the meeting will achieve the withdrawal of the troops at the pagoda and around the pagoda," Hor Namhong told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport before his departure, referring to the Keo Sekha Kirisvara pagoda located in disputed territory near Preah Vihear temple.

Soldiers from both sides continue to occupy the Buddhist pagoda, although in much-diminished numbers following the weekend redeployment of nearly 1,000 troops away from the temple.

"We will resolve the problem step by step," he said, adding  the Cambodian side would also raise the Thai occupation of two other Cambodian temples, Ta Moan Thom and Ta Moan Touch in Oddar Meanchey province.

The two countries "will solve the problem legally and peacefully", he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said later Monday that the two diplomats would have a casual dinner that night before getting down to talks today in the Thai seaside resort town of Hua Hin.

I AM OPTIMISTIC THE MEETING WILL ACHIEVE THE WITHRAWAL OF THE TROOPS.

"They will talk among themselves during dinner and it will make the situation more friendly ... then we will have a meeting to discuss and solve this problem," Phay Siphan said.
The first round of Preah Vihear talks took place in late July at the height of the crisis, with both sides agreeing to recommend troop withdrawals. Little progress, however, was seen until last week, when troops began to leave their positions.

Defusing the crisis

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej flew to the border early Monday ahead of the talks to meet with the few soldiers still stationed there.

"I want to say Thailand and Cambodia are neighbours, not enemies. We have to help each other ... I would like you to keep working and be patient," Samak told troops along the border.

General Anupong Paojinda, head of the Thai army, joined Samak and sought to reassure soldiers.

"Both sides understand each other and there will be no confrontation or tension," he said.

Cambodian commanders also expressed hope for a quick resolution: "I am anxious to know results from this meeting because no one wants to stay in the forest," said General Srey Doek, commander of RCAF Brigade 12.

Hor Namhong said that after all the troops had withdrawn, both sides would restart demining operations and push for the joint demarcation of the border. The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully defined, in part as it is littered with landmines left from decades of war in Cambodia.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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