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Thais talk troop exit

Thailand would begin withdrawing troops from disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple as soon as two weeks after next month’s General Border Committee meeting with Cambodia, a Thai military official told the Post yesterday. 

Colonel Siribunsot Sirisak, director of the Thai military’s Cambodia division, said the troops would likely begin withdrawing from a Provisional Demilitarised Zone established by the United Nations' highest court after the GBC meeting takes place in Phnom Penh in mid-December.

“I think after we have already had the GBC meeting, after that, I think about two or three weeks [later] we will start the redeployment from the vicinity around the Preah Vihear temple,” he said.

Sirisak also said Indonesian border observers would be allowed to enter the disputed area in Thailand before troops had finished withdrawing.

In July, the International Court of Justice established the PDZ and ordered the two countries to immediately withdraw troops so Indonesian border observers could enter the area and monitor a cease-fire.

On Tuesday, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said his country should comply with the ICJ decision or risk having Cambodia seek compulsory measures from the United Nations Security Council, the Bangkok Post reported.

Thai Foreign Affairs spokesman Thani Thongpakdee confirmed yesterday that Surapong had committed to the ICJ decision before a closed session of parliament in which members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were asked for their views on the issue.

“In principle, what Foreign Minister Surapong had said to parliament . . . was that the government’s view was that Thailand should abide by its obligations under the UN charter,” he said.

The Thai government is now collecting the views of its parliamentarians after seeking their approval to uphold the ICJ decision under Article 179 of Thailand’s constitution.

Cambodia’s Lieutenant-General Srey Doek, the commander of military division 3, which covers the Preah Vihear area, said both governments remained committed in principle to the decision.

“We welcome the withdrawal of troops from the area, but we will wait to see Thailand take action [first],” he said.

“We supported the ICJ order, and we really want to see peace taking place.”

Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at the University of New South Wales, said the withdrawal of forces had long been stalled and would “clear the pitch” for Cambodia before it assumed chairmanship of ASEAN at the end of this year.

“It just went off the burner, and I’ve been curious to [know] where it’s at. I think the rest of ASEAN will give a huge, collective sigh of relief,” he said.

The ICJ decision followed bloody clashes between Cambodian and Thai forces in February and April that left at least 28 people dead.

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