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Thais decline talks: report

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Thai army tanks are unloaded at a camp in Si Sa Ket province, Thailand, during a period of heightened tension on the Thai-Cambodian border in February.

Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has reportedly backed out of attending a proposed meeting with Cambodian officials in Indonesia next month aimed at easing tensions between the two countries following their deadly military clashes in February.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that Prayuth said he and other military leaders had decided not to attend the meeting because they believe the ongoing border dispute with Cambodia should only be settled in a bilateral forum.

“We won’t go.  We don’t want the meeting to be held in a third country,” Prayuth reportedly said. “Soldiers of the two countries are very close to each other.  Talks should be between soldiers of the two countries only, and a third party should not be involved.”

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said yesterday evening that his office was in the process of “verifying the report” with the military, declining to comment further.

The proposed talks, scheduled for April 7-8 in Indonesia, follow four days of fighting between the two sides in February along the border near Preah Vihear temple that left at least 10  people dead, dozens injured and thousands of civilians displaced. Cambodia and Thailand subsequently appeared before the United Nations Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in relation to the dispute, with both bodies ultimately endorsing mediation by current ASEAN chair Indonesia.

Earlier this month, Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva reportedly expressed support for the talks in Indonesia, which Cambodian officials had already agreed to attend.

“I hope the meeting will help ease tension between the two countries,” Abhisit said, according to the Bangkok Post.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, said Prayuth’s reported rejection of the talks showed “the unfaithfulness of Thailand”.

“We will wait to see the stance of Indonesia, the chair of ASEAN,” Koy Kuong said.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said Cambodian officials were “disappointed” by the Thai military’s announcement.

“This shows that they do not respect the decisions of the United Nations and the ASEAN foreign ministers,” he said.

Thai defence minister Prawit Wongsuwon has also decided not to attend the meeting in Indonesia, the Bangkok Post said, citing an anonymous source within the ministry.

The reported moves raise questions about the control the current Thai government has over its military following Abhisit’s recent announcement that national elections will be held within the next few months. The issue is especially sensitive in a country that has repeatedly been subject to military coups over the past few decades, most recently in 2006.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH AND JAMES O’TOOLE

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