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Tough talk flies across border

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Even as Thai troops reportedly pull out of flash points on the front line, the war of words between the two sides heats up, dashing hopes for a quick resolution

Photo by: AFP

Cambodian soldiers Tuesday patrol around Preah Vihear temple, at Veal Antri, after Thai soldiers reportedly moved out of the area.

WHILE Cambodian officials insist that Thai troops have pulled back from the front lines of disputed border areas, confusion remains as to whether the move amounts to a definitive withdrawal from frontier flash points where they have faced off with Cambodian soldiers. 

Bangkok maintained Tuesday that its troops would remain in place, suggesting that no progress has been made towards easing tensions on the border, a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned of war if Thai troops did not leave.

Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat told reporters that Thai troops would not move any time soon, after Hun Sen laid down a noon ultimatum for them to redeploy.

"All 80 troops will remain in the disputed area because Thailand has overseen that area for 20 to 30 years," he said, referring to a group of soldiers who Cambodia accused of crossing the border Monday near Preah Vihear temple.

"Of those 80 troops, 20 are mine-clearance workers and the rest offer protection for the mine clearance troops. Thailand insists it has not encroached on any territory."

Rhetoric sharpens

The Thai Foreign Ministry also issued statements Tuesday saying Hun Sen's threats ran "counter to the spirit of neighborliness" and that "Thailand will have to exercise its right to self-defense".

It also accused Cambodia of violating an international treaty by laying new land mines in the areas.

The Thai army weighed in with its own sharp rhetoric Tuesday, saying it was prepared for fighting.

Before Thai troops reportedly pulled back at around 11am, Hun Sen threw more fuel on the fire, telling an audience at the opening of the fourth Asian Economic Forum in Phnom Penh that "the loss of Veal Antri would mean the loss of Preah Vihear temple. All commanders there were responsible for that area, and have to treat it as a life-and-death battle zone".

Veal Antri, an area about two kilometres from Preah Vihear, was the scene of an October 3 shootout between Cambodian and Thai troops that wounded three. The firefight was the first armed clash between the two sides since a military standoff over the disputed border territory began in July.  

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