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Troops reduced at temple

Forces to leave Preah Vihear ahead of Monday’s crisis talks

CAMBODIAN and Thai military commanders have agreed to reduce significantly the number of troops deployed at Preah Vihear ahead of talks next week on resolving the monthlong standoff over disputed territory near the famed temple, a defense ministry official said Thursday.

"Both sides agreed to keep only a very small number of armed forces," said Neang Phat, secretary of state at the Defence Ministry, adding that the soldiers would remain at a Buddhist pagoda near Preah Vihear. "The number of armed forces at the pagoda ... must remain at an appropriate level."

The agreement came at a meeting of Thai and Cambodian military officials on Wednesday in Thailand, he said.

Neang Phat also said that troops from both sides had to dismantle their defences, including filling in trenches, that were built up along the de facto frontline around Preah Vihear.

"When soldiers dig trenches, it means that they are preparing to attack. It will really ease tensions when these are [filled]," he said.

Hundreds of soldiers have dug in around the temple over the past month after Thai troops first crossed the border on July 15, sparking the largest build-up of troops and equipment, including heavy weapons, in recent years.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met once already with his Thai counterpart, Tej Bunnag, to try and resolve the issue, with both agreeing to recommend a re-deployment of troops away from the temple.

But little real progress appears to have been made, and the two will meet again on Monday for a second round of crisis talks.

"When the number of soldiers is down, it will help make the foreign ministers' meeting a success," said Chea Saran, a military commander at Preah Vihear.

Since the ministers first met in July, Cambodia has accused Thailand of further border incursions, saying Thai troops had occupied two temples, Ta Moan Thom and Ta Moan Touch, and tried to take up positions on a Cambodian mountain near Preah Vihear.

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