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Border talks likely in China

Border talks likely in China

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Photo by: CHEY PHUMPUL

Prime Minister Hun Sen (with flowers) leaves for Beijing, where he is expected to meet his Thai counterpart.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen left Monday for Beijing, where he is expected to meet his Thai counterpart, Somchai Wongsawat, for the highest-level border crisis talks since last week's deadly shootout near Preah Vihear.

"I think that Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Foreign Affairs [Hor Namhong] will meet with their Thai counterparts over very important issues of the border dispute," said Koy Kuong, undersecretary of state at the Foreign Ministry.

Somchai told reporters in Bangkok that no specific meeting had been arranged with Hun Sen, but confirmed that he would be in China from Thursday and was open to talks.

"The Cambodia issue needs to be discussed between the two countries," he said. "[Talks] depend on whether there is an appropriate atmosphere and an appropriate time is available."

Cambodian and Thai military commanders are still expected to meet in Siem Reap later this week over the three-month-old border dispute, which has twice now erupted in violence as hundreds of soldiers from both sides face off over contested territory.

Despite an apparent desire for diplomacy, both sides continue to reinforce their troops on the border.

Last week's fighting, which left at least three soldiers dead and an unknown number wounded, has raised concern among the international community, with Malaysia on Monday urging the two sides to restart peace talks to resolve their conflict.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said he would carry a peace message from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Thailand this week.

"I am going there with a message from Prime Minister Abdullah and also with a specific request from me (to the two countries) to de-escalate and return to the conference table," he told reporters.

Hun Sen will also hold talks with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as he attends the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that begins Friday.

He said last week that he would not raise the border issue at the ASEM meeting, while also dismissing the need for foreign mediation.

"I think that it is not the right time yet, because Cambodia and Thailand agreed to resume talks," Hun Sen said. "We do not need others to come and intervene."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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